Study: How to Reduce PVC-Related Greenhouse Emissions by 2050

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David Hart
David Hart: ‘[O]ur study…may also be important for insights into decarbonization pathways for the broader chemical industry.’

A groundbreaking study from the Schar School of Policy and Government’s Center for Energy Science Policy (CESP) shows how the U.S.’s production of polyvinyl chloride—PVC—may reduce greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing by up to 90 percent by 2050 using technologies that are nearing maturity now and add only a modest cost to production.

PVC is the third most widely produced plastic in the world and is found in construction materials, automobiles, medical products, and countless other everyday and specialized resources. The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter, creating some 10 million metric tons of PVC annually, with projected growth to 16 million metric tons by 2050.

The study, “Pathways to Decarbonize the PVC Chain in 2050,” looks in detail at the challenges of decarbonizing one key segment of the chemical industry along two major pathways and offers policy insights—while warning of the ramifications of “business as usual” without abatement policies.

“We estimate that the facilities that contribute to PVC production in the U.S. emitted about 18 million metric tons of CO2—a major greenhouse gas—in 2020,” said Schar School professor David M. Hart, who led the study. “The PVC value chain is important for its own sake, but our study of it may also be important for insights into decarbonization pathways for the broader chemical industry.”

The report is the first of its kind to model the cost and emissions impact of decarbonizing a major chemical industry value chain through a “bottom-up” analysis. The yearlong study was written by CESP nonresident fellows Ronald Whitfield and Francis Brown and Hart.

Contributors to the report include the Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability, the Information and Technology and Innovation Foundation, and the Center for Houston’s Future. The report is here:

The study is the first of two funded by a $500,000 grant from Breakthrough Energy, the Kirkland, Washington, organization founded in 2015 by Bill Gates to accelerate innovation in sustainable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

More information about the study is here.