The U.S.-based multinational chemical company Chemours says it will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years on a path to effectively eliminating all emissions by mid-century.
An Inside Climate News assessment finds the company could achieve two-thirds of its near-term emissions reduction goal by curbing the release of just two pollutants at one plant in Louisville, Kentucky.
One of the largest chemical manufacturers in America, with its corporate headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, Chemours produces, among other things, fluorinated chemicals used in Teflon and other high performance polymers. The company has 29 production facilities worldwide.
Chemours aims to reduce emissions from all of its operations by 60 percent by 2030 from a 2018 emissions baseline and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to an announcement released on Thursday.
The company previously had a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas intensity, or emissions relative to production volume, by 60 percent by 2030. With this week’s announcement, the company is setting a fixed target for emissions reductions that will not fluctuate with production volumes.
“Our more ambitious greenhouse gas emission goal, along with our other Corporate Responsibility Commitments reflect our strategy to grow our business responsibly and sustainably,” Mark Vergnano, Chemours’ president and chief executive officer, said in a written statement. “It’s good for business and good for the planet.”
Sheryl Telford, the company’s newly appointed chief sustainability officer, said the prior emissions reduction target “was not as ambitious as it should be.”
“What matters is reducing total CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions to remain within the global carbon budget to limit global warming to 1.5C or lower,” Telford said, referring to the goal of the Paris climate accord to limit warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.
The company’s announcement came a week after Inside Climate News and the Louisville Courier Journal reported that annual emissions from one of the company’s production facilities, the Louisville Works in Louisville, Kentucky, equaled the yearly greenhouse gas emissions of more than 750,000 U.S. automobiles.
The article focused on emissions of two climate super-pollutants, hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22), chemicals that are thousands of times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide, the primary driver of climate change.
HCFC-22 is a chemical ingredient used in everything from Teflon to lubricants used on the International Space Station. In addition to being a climate super-pollutant that is 1,760 times more effective at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, HCFC-22 also destroys atmospheric ozone that helps protect the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays.
The chemical was banned in the United States and other developed countries on Jan. 1, 2020 under an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol. But, Chemours is exempt from that prohibition because the HCFC-22 produced in Louisville is used as a feedstock to make other products that do not damage the Earth’s protective ozone layer.
HFC-23 is an unwanted byproduct resulting from the production of HCFC-22. As a greenhouse gas, the chemical is 12,400 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
In response to inquiries about the two chemicals, company officials said they would install pollution controls that would capture nearly all HFC-23 emissions from the plant, and destroy them at an off-site incinerator, by the end of 2022.
Separate controls would capture and reuse nearly all HCFC-22 emissions from the plant by the end of 2024, company officials said. The new announcement of company-wide emissions reduction targets won’t affect the 2022 and 2024 timelines for pollution controls at the Louisville Works.
Environmental advocates said the company should move more quickly to reduce emissions of these potent greenhouse gases. The Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization based in Washington, called on Chemours to stop production at the Louisville plant until the company could eliminate its HFC-23 emissions. Chemours first pledged to curtail those emissions in 2015.
“I stand by our initial comment that Chemours should shut down its operations immediately if they are still unable or unwilling to control their own chemical waste,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA’s climate campaign lead. “They are still waiting until the end of 2022 to address HFC-23 emissions. That is unacceptable while we are in a climate crisis and the world is fighting to even keep the hope alive of staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Current government regulations do not require Chemours to reduce emissions of HFC-23, the more potent of the two climate super-pollutants emitted from the Louisville plant. However, EPA officials say they are now considering such a requirement.
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Installing emissions controls at such a large production facility takes time, Thomas Sueta, a spokesperson for Chemours previously told Inside Climate News.
David Doniger, senior strategic director of the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he welcomed the emissions reduction targets. But he said the need to reduce HFC-23 and HCFC-22 emissions from the Louisville plant is “long overdue” and “still extremely urgent.”
“They have known about this for decades,” Doniger said of Chemours and DuPont, the chemical manufacturer that owned and operated the Louisville plant until 2015 when Chemours, a DuPont spin-off, assumed ownership.
Emissions of HFC-23 and HCFC-22 from the Louisville plant accounted for 39 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from Chemours facilities worldwide, including emissions tied to electricity used at the plants, according to an Inside Climate News assessment of EPA data and the company’s 2018 emissions. Eliminating emissions of these two pollutants at the Louisville plant alone would help Chemours reach about two-thirds of its 2030 emissions reduction target.
Sueta, did not dispute the analysis and said the company has more than a dozen projects slated for completion in the coming years that will help Chemours achieve its 2030 emissions reduction goal.