When life cycle thinking is necessary for decision making: emerging cleaner technologies in the chlor-alkali industry
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AuthorMargallo Blanco, María; Onandía de Dios, Raquel; Aldaco García, Rubén; Irabien Gulías, José Ángel
The chlor-alkali industry sector produces chlorine, sodium/potassium hydroxide and hydrogen by the electrolysis of brine. Nowadays, three different electrolysis techniques are applied: mercury, diaphragm, and membrane cell technology. From all these technologies, the European Commission labels the membrane process as the Best Available Technique (BAT) for the chlor-alkali industry. The membrane cell technology has fewer exhausts to the environment and it is relatively more efficient in the use of electric power that mercury and diaphragm. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the overall energy intensity has been reduced, the issue of energy consumption is still a major matter. A promising approach for reducing the electricity demand of chlor-alkali electrolysis is using oxygen-depolarised cathodes (ODC). ODCs are long known and have been successfully used in chlorine production through electrolysis of hydrogen chloride (HCl). The achieved environmental benefit of this technique is a reduction of energy consumption. However, the overall reduction of energy consumption is lower, as some energy is required to produce pure oxygen and because hydrogen is not co-produced, which could otherwise be used in chemical reactions or to produce steam and electricity via combustion or fuel cells. In this sense, the reduced electricity demand does not necessarily imply cleaner chlorine production. For that reason, this work proposes the use of the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to determine the environmental performance of the existing electrolysis technologies and to compare it with the ODC technique.
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