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Rising Use of Plastics to Drive Oil Demand by 2050

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Plastics and other petrochemical products will drive global oil demand to 2050, offsetting slower consumption of motor fuel, reported the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Oil demand for transport is expected to slow down by 2050 due to the rise of electric vehicles, however that decline would be offset by demand for petrochemical products. The rapid growth of emerging economies such as India and China are expected to propel demand for petrochemicals. Petrochemicals form the building blocks of products ranging from plastic bottles and beauty products to fertilizers and explosives.

Petrochemicals are expected to account for more than a third of global oil demand growth by 2030 and nearly half of demand growth by 2050. Global demand for petrochemical feedstock accounted for 12 million barrels per day (bpd), or roughly 12 percent of total demand for oil in 2017. The figure is expected to grow to almost 18 million bpd in 2050 with most demand growth taking place in the Middle East and China, where big petrochemical plants are being built.

Petrochemical Investments

Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell plan to invest in new petrochemical plants in the coming decades, betting on rising demand for plastics in emerging economies. Major producers in the Middle East are also investing in large petrochemical plants because it can be more profitable by converting crude oil directly into plastics rather than oil products such as gasoline and diesel.

Plastic waste is known to make its way into oceans where it harms marine life, prompting several countries to ban or tax single-use plastic bags.  However, this will have little effect on petrochemical demand. The IEA report says:

Although substantial increases in recycling and efforts to curb single-use plastics take place, especially led by Europe, Japan and Korea, these efforts will be far outweighed by the sharp increase in developing economies of plastic consumption.

[via Reuters]

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1 COMMENT

  1. By 2050, lots can happen.
    People in developing countries are educated too and don’t want to pollute their countries and the world any more than (some) Westerners do now.
    Using reusable shopping bags is a solution they can easily adopt now, and in a few years time, when there are better solutions for other single-use plastic products, it is not a far stretch of imagination to see most of these countries use these solutions too, even if it’s a little more expensive. Actually, if you regularly watch TED Talks, you’ll see that many of these innovative no-waste, low-energy or recycling solutions come from students and engineers from these developing countries.

    And at least, since these countries are starting almost from scratch, they can build apartment blocks and a whole economy and society with the proper waste and recycling management and mindset in place.

    The IAE seems to be projecting on the trends that are observed today, I really hope that all the talk about the Paris and other agreements will translate into acts. People are really starting to realize and be bothered by the vast quantity of plastics that we consume, or even ingest and breathe, to finally release a lot of it in our environment and the oceans. Even smokers are pissed off when you tell them that the cigarette filters they assumed to be compostable paper is actually a form of unrecyclable non biodegradable plastics, many of these filters are swept straight from the pavement to the ocean.

    In any case, politicians should not just follow the trends, we elect them to create the trends. In the case of petrol products, we should establish priorities for the use of our remaining resources of petrol in order to protect what we can’t live without. For instance, giving the top priority to road surfacing, aviation fuel and plastic in components such as motherboards, phones, electrical insulation, etc., products for which there are no replacement in the foreseeable future. The military also seem to be keen on petrol. Of course, your perspective is different when you need several gallons of it just to start a tank, let alone drive it around…

    Petrol as a fuel for transportation or power stations will probably become a very low priority by 2050 in the developed world. But 2050 is not that far ahead and ICE cars will still be built by then in most of the world, there will definitely be many more ICE cars in the developing world that there are now..

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