If you want to see exciting developments in heavy industry decarbonization, look no further. Look at the pioneering $ 2.5 million project at a landfill just outside Dunbar in Scotland. The innovative process converts the methane gas produced by breaking down garbage into bio-liquefied natural gas. Enough fuel will reportedly be produced annually at this site to power a fleet of trucks for thousands upon thousands of kilometers. Better yet: CO2 will also be captured during the process to be sold for use in manufacturing.
Inventions like this could help revolutionize recycling and lead to large-scale reductions in industrial CO2 emissions. But they will not be enough in and of themselves to decarbonize some of the largest global industries that are not often heard of in climate discussions, namely the glass, steel, cement, fuel and chemical “chimney industries”.
Heavy industry is responsible for more than a fifth (22%) of global greenhouse gas emissions. About half of that (42%), which represents a tenth of global CO2 emissions, results from the production of very high temperatures necessary for the production of cement, steel and petrochemical products.
“Many industrial processes begin by melting rocks by burning fossil fuels. To make glass, for example, you melt sand and pour it over molten tin, ”notes Bloomberg. “This means hot, hot, high quality and a lot, ranging from 700 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (371 to 1,649 degrees Celsius). And that heat is necessary all day, every day, to operate blast furnaces, boilers and cement kilns ”.
However, awareness among large industries is growing. With the intention of reducing the giant carbon footprint of heavy industry, some innovators are working on solutions. In 2016, for example, three prominent Swedish companies - a steelmaker, a giant iron ore miner and the public utility company Vattenfall - launched an iron production process that emits almost no greenhouse gases.
Conventionally, oxygen is removed from iron ore by burning coke from coal. In the new process, heat is generated through the use of hydrogen gas with the by-product being water, not CO2.
Also in the cement industry, innovations are being made to reduce its massive carbon emissions, which account for about 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. In fact, the production of cement, the most widely used artificial material, generates more CO2 than most countries.
“The cement sector needs to drastically reduce the contribution it makes to climate change. Delaying or avoiding this challenge is not an option. Ultimately, this is a critical issue for the business of the sector ”, emphasizes Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Group of Institutional Investors on Climate Change. "The cement sector needs to anticipate the profound transformation that its sector faces by addressing the barriers to decarbonization in the short and medium term if companies want to secure their future."
However, transformative change in heavy industry is easier said than done. Across industry, the heat required for manufacturing is generated by burning fossil fuels. Also much of the electricity, which is also required in large quantities. One solution lies in electrifying industrial heat processes, which can be done through non-fossil resources.
"Electrification of heat provides attractive decarbonisation pathways for industry and will significantly change industrial electricity use in a carbon-constrained world," argue two experts Hans De Keulenaer and Edwin Haesen, in an article published by the International Association for the Cooperation in Energy Efficiency. "The mature electroheating technologies on the market, such as induction, resistance, infrared, electric arc and radio frequency, as well as microwave heating, are available today," they add. "Promising innovative technologies such as laser, electron beam and plasma arc heating are emerging that need to be further developed."
Another solution that generates steam is the large-scale adoption of new nuclear technologies in industrial processes to mitigate the carbon footprint of heavy industry. According to Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower, a nuclear reactor design company in the United States, "we need to sensitize people about decarbonization and what happens if we don't switch to carbon-free energy sources." So we have to think about nuclear power [when it comes to] the three pillars of modern society: concrete, steel and plastic. These products are almost entirely driven by the burning of fossil fuels. "
Deriving heat for the naturally low-carbon, heavy nuclear power industry could result in massive reductions in CO2 emissions. "We need to imagine that nuclear heat provides heat for some of those [industrial] processes and advanced reactors have another great benefit: they can run hotter than today's light water reactors, which run at 300 ° C," he says. Levesque.
"Our Gen IV reactors operate at 500 ° C and our sodium-cooled fast reactors at 700 ° C," he clarifies. “Part of the innovation process involves not only starting up the reactor design. It also involves imagining what the integrated energy system will be like in 2050 and what the share of nuclear energy will be in economies around the world. "
However, we will not be able to change things without consistent and well considered government policies. Switching to low carbon processes in heavy industry will be costly and time consuming, just as it will be in the energy industry. "Achieving the dual transformation of the energy and industrial sectors will require coordinated efforts across the economy," observes McKinsey & Company, a US management consulting firm.
"Governments can develop roadmaps for industrial decarbonization at the local and regional level to create a more secure outlook for industrial and electrical companies and unlock investments with longer payback times," McKinsey & Company clarifies. "Governments can also adjust regulations and incentives to support decarbonization, for example, by encouraging investment in renewable generation capacity by altering financial requirements for utilities and other companies involved in power generation and distribution." .
The many opportunities for deep decarbonization are more than equaled in number by the number of innovators working to change traditional industrial processes. All that is needed as a coherent political framework, and it is time for governments around the world to start preparing for the future.
By Daniel T Cross. Article in English)