Environmental challenges of the chlor-alkali production: Seeking answers from a life cycle approach
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AuthorGarcía Herrero, María Isabel; Margallo Blanco, María; Onandía de Dios, Raquel; Aldaco García, Rubén; Irabien Gulías, José Ángel
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been used to assess the environmental sustainability of the chlor-alkali production in Europe. The three current technologies applied nowadays are mercury, diaphragm, and membrane cell technology. Despite, having achieved higher energy efficiencies since the introduction of membrane technology, energy consumption is still one of the most important issues in this sector. An emerging technology namely oxygen-depolarised cathodes (ODC) is suggested as a promising approach for reducing the electrolysis energy demand. However, its requirement of pure oxygen and the lack of production of hydrogen, which could otherwise be valorised, are controversial features for greener chlorine production.
The aim of this work is to evaluate and compare the environmental profiles of the current and emerging technologies for chlorine production and to identify the main hot spots of the process. Salt mining, brine preparation, electrolysis technology and products treatment are included inside the system boundaries. Twelve environmental impact categories grouped into natural resources usage and environmental burdens are assessed from cradle to gate and further normalised and weighted. Furthermore, hydrogen valorisation, current density and allocation procedure are subjected to sensitivity analysis. Results show that the electrolysis stage is the main contributor to the environmental impacts due to energy consumption, causing 99.5–72% of these impacts. Mercury is the less environmentally sustainable technology, closely followed by diaphragm. This difference becomes bigger after normalisation, owing to hazardous waste generated by mercury technique. Conversely, best results are obtained for ODC instead of membrane scenario, although the reduction in energy requirements is lesser than expected (7%).