Chemicals and plastics overview

The chemicals and plastics sub-sector accounts for almost 18% of energy use within the Australian manufacturing sector

Capturing and reusing heat generated in the chemicals and plastic production process, combined with equipment upgrades and process innovation, are examples of how a higher level of energy-efficiency can improve profitability and market competitiveness.

Opportunities to save

Optimise the use of current equipment

Many manufacturing plants have equipment that is used sub-optimally or is left on when not in use. Optimising the use of existing equipment can yield energy savings for little or no cost.

Maintain current equipment

As a significant percentage of energy in the chemical and plastics sector is used by furnaces, boilers and steam distribution systems, good maintenance is critical to proactively preventing energy waste.

Reduce heat loss and install heat recovery

Heat recovery technologies offer significant potential to improve the energy efficiency of existing processes at chemical and plastics plants.

Implement process innovation and equipment upgrade

Energy analysis and best practice case studies demonstrate that savings of at least 25% can be achieved through innovations in chemical manufacturing processes and upgrades to more energy efficient equipment.

Innovate product design for economy-wide efficiency improvement

More than 85% of the outputs from the Australian chemicals and plastics sector are inputs to other sectors in the Australian economy. Clever product design can reduce or avoid wasteful production processes, and can contribute to greater energy efficiency in other parts of the economy, for example by providing lighter weight components for vehicle manufacturers.

For more information, see Chemicals and plastics opportunities to save.


Key areas of innovation that can improve energy efficiency in these industries include:

  • developing more energy efficient forms of chemical separation and processing, including improvements in catalysts, to reduce the need for high temperatures and pressure
  • improving the conversion efficiency of heat recovery and combined heat and power technologies, including the use of sequential heat pumps to produce high temperature water
  • using combined solar thermal generation to produce steam, pre-heated water, and electricity
  • application of ‘green chemistry’ and green chemical engineering principles. The Plastics and Chemicals Association of Australia (PACIA) has a formal partnership with the Monash University Green Chemistry Institute to explore opportunities in Australia.
  • using renewable feedstocks to power the production process
  • disassembly, recovery and recycling of chemicals and plastics

More information

Australian Energy Update 2018

Chemistry Australia

Plastics and chemicals case studies Sustainability Victoria

An Overview of Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Chemical Engineering (PDF 1.2MB) The University of Adelaide and Queensland University of Technology