An international research team found that oil refinery emissions are only going to worsen unless restrictions are put in place. The team recommended mitigation strategies for refineries in different regions and age groups.

The petroleum refining industry is the third-largest stationary emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world and contributes to 6% of all industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Source: UnsplashSource: Unsplash

The team created a global inventory of carbon dioxide emissions from 1,056 oil refineries from 2000 to 2018; the industry’s CO2 emissions were 1.36 tons in 2018.

The average capacity of young refineries increased during the study period and are mainly distributed in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. The average capacity of 19-year-old+ more refineries remained stable. If all existing and proposed refineries operate as usual, without low-carbon measures, these plants could emit up to 16.56 gigatons of CO2 from 2020 to 2030.

There is an urgent need for refineries to adopt low-carbon tech to reduce CO2 emissions in the newer facilities. Middle-aged refineries need to improve operational efficiency to eliminate backward capacity and speed efforts to upgrade refining configurations. These are key to balancing growing demand and reducing CO2 emissions. The researchers recommended mitigation strategies, like improving refinery efficiency and upgrading heavy oil processing tech. This could potentially reduce global cumulative emissions by 10% from 2020 to 2030.

The global oil refinery inventory developed by researchers from Tsinghua University (China), Peking University (China), University of Groningen (Netherlands) and University College London will be updated as more refinery data becomes available.

This study was published in One Earth.