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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Friday, 9 February, 2024 - 13:00 to 14:00
Jonathan Cullen + students, University of Cambridge
FW11, William Gates Building. Zoom link:

Abstract: Our world could not function without plastics, synthetic fertilisers, and chemical derivatives. Yet making these products exacts a significant toll on the environment. The petrochemical sector is accountable for a third of industrial final energy use, a tenth of global oil and natural gas demand, and almost a fifth of global industrial carbon emissions. And demand for chemicals is expected to double by 2050. A future sustainable petrochemical sector will need to innovate quickly to deliver products with net zero GHG emissions and a reduced burden on the environment and natural resources. However, the decarbonisation of the petrochemical sector is challenging given the complexity of supply chains and thermodynamic constraints of the chemical reactions. Emissions are released throughout their life cycles, with varying stages dominating for different products. Mitigation options are therefore less straightforward than in other industries, requiring a system-wide approach. The nature of the sector also makes data collection and analysis challenging, meaning there is currently no reliable, comprehensive picture of GHG emissions or energy, mass, and trade flows of the petrochemical sector. In this talk, I will present finding from C-THRU a 3-year international research project with the aim of delivering carbon clarity in the global petrochemical sector. The project aims to build the world’s most comprehensive, reliable, and transparent account of current and future emissions from the petrochemical sector and explore how future interventions and innovations could minimise greenhouse gas emissions. The research supports strategic policy and business decision-making to promote the sustainability of the petrochemical sector, making it compatible with climate change mitigation goals. Bio: Jonathan Cullen is the Professor of Sustainable Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Jonathan's research interests span energy and material systems, efficiency limits, circularity and zero carbon transition pathways. He currently leads C-THRU: carbon clarity in the global petrochemical supply chain (, and is a co-investigator on: CCG: Climate Compatible Growth (, TransFIRe: Foundation Industries Research and Innovation Hub (, S2uPPlant: Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging from Plants (UKRI), and UK FIRES: Locating Resource Efficiency at the heart of Future Industrial Strategy ( He is a Lead Author for the IPCC AR6 Industry Chapter and co-authored the book Sustainable Materials: with both eyes open, which pioneered the concept of material efficiency for energy-intensive industries (

Seminar series: 
Energy and Environment Group