The chlor-alkali Industry in Europe

The chlor-alkali Industry in Europe

Whether you insulate a house, make synthetic rubber, use microchips or solar cells, purify waste water or simply apply deodorant, chlorine is always in the game. Based on plain salt, chlorine is a major building block in today's chemistry. This does not necessarily mean that end products contain chlorine. But chlorine and chlorinated substances are used in many hundreds of production processes.

Salt − composed of sodium and chlorine − makes up 2.9% of the world's oceans. Salt brine is the main raw material used to produce chlorine, by passing electricity through it. So, electricity is used as a raw material and as such cannot be substituted.

Essential co-products are caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and hydrogen. Caustic soda is an alkali and is widely-used in many industries, including the food industry, aluminium and textile production, soap and other cleaning agents as well as water treatment and effluent control. Hydrogen is a combustible gas used in various processes including the production of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia.

Three technologies

There are three electrolysis technologies for producing chlorine and caustic soda: membrane, mercury and diaphragm. The European chlor-alkali industry committed voluntarily to close or convert its mercury based plants by 2020. In the year 2000, the mercury process still accounted for 54% of European capacity. Thanks to the gradual shift away from the mercury cell technology, it now only accounted for approximately 17% of the total installed capacity in 2016.  European regulation foresees the mercury technology phase-out by the end of 2017. The more energy-efficient membrane technology accounts today for about 64% of European chlorine capacity.

In 2016, European chlorine production was nearly 9.7 million tonnes. Germany remains Europe's largest chlorine producer, followed by Belgium/The Netherlands and France. 

Read more on the chlorine production processes at the how is chlorine produced pages.

Numerous applications

The chlorine industry underpins 55% of all chemical production. Approximately two thirds of European chlorine production is used in engineering materials - polymers, resins and elastomers. The largest single end use (32.5%) continues to be PVC plastic primarily for the construction, automotive, electronic and electrical industries. PVC is also used in 25% of medical devices. These include blood bags, sterile tubing, heart catheters and prosthetics. Polyurethane insulation materials help save energy and reduce CO2 emissions. Chlorine also plays an essential role in obtaining 99.9999% pure silicon that is used for the production of solar panels and microchips.

More than 90% of European drinking water is made safe with the help of chlorine, which disinfects right up to the tap. Chlorine plays a key role in controlling pathogens such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea. Chlorine in household bleach combats a wide range of microbes in homes, hospitals, swimming pools and restaurants.

Approximately 85% of all pharmaceuticals contain chlorinated compounds or make use of them in the synthesis of the active substances and half of the crop protection chemicals used to boost yields and food quality are based on chlorine chemistry.

> Read more on the uses of chlorine on the what is chlorine used for page.
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> And read about the latest issues, facts and figures in the Chlorine Industry Review.