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4 Ways to Make Industrial Decarbonization a Reality

Yes – individual actions are very important when it comes to reducing our environmental impact and ensuring the sustainability of our planet and its ecosystems. However, we also need to think big picture in order to make the necessary transition to a greener way of living. Not only is it beneficial for individuals and businesses to go green, but for entire industries as well!

Did you know that emissions from the industrial sector comprise one-third of all global emissions? It is no secret that our economies rely heavily on the industrial sector. A wide variety of industries are responsible for producing the items we rely on in our everyday life. For example, items such as cellphones, homes, city structures, consumer goods, as well as many more, are made up of materials that are produced by the industrial goods sector.

This reliance on and prevalence of the industrial sector is why we need to find greener solutions! If we’re unable to do away with activities that negatively impact the environment, the next option is to revamp them. Industrial decarbonization might just be the solution!

Industrial decarbonization

Decarbonization is the term used to describe phasing out carbon emissions from fossil fuels. As we currently are facing a global climate crisis, it has become essential to decarbonize industrial processes.

However, industrial decarbonization is not an easy task. Many industrial processes require the use of fossil fuels such as coal for feedstock. And what’s more is that these fossil fuels are also relied upon during the manufacturing process. Industrial facilities and their processes have been designed around the use of fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, these industrial facilities have long lifespans which means that they will need costly new technologies and renovations in order to become greener.

Nevertheless, there are a few promising technical solutions which will allow industrial sectors such as iron and steel, chemicals and plastics, and cement to reduce their carbon emissions. It should also be noted that these technical solutions can be combined by industries in order to bring emissions close to zero. Depending on the type of industry, its location, access to resources and technologies, the optimum combination of decarbonization options will vary from one facility to the next.

Decarbonization through Electrification

In many industrial processes, high levels of heat are required for processing and producing materials such as chemicals and metals. One of the most important methods of achieving decarbonization of industrial processes is the electrification of existing processes for heat treatment. Electricity generated without burning fossil fuels is the key.

Although the electrification alternatives for high-heat applications are limited, there are still many industrial processes which require process heat under 300 degrees Celsius. This means that existing technologies can be effectively used to decarbonize certain industrial processes. For example, glass can be manufactured using electricity to melt the raw materials that form glass instead of the combustion of natural gas.

With the development and rapid cost-decrease of renewable energies, electrification is looking like a promising alternative for industrial heating and processing activities, as these new technologies are able to achieve the same end result with a much smaller environmental impact!

Decarbonization through Biomass/Biofuels

Another approach to industrial decarbonization includes substituting fossil fuels with environmentally friendly alternatives such as biocarbon which is produced from biomass which comes from living organisms and/or their by-products. For example, biofuels which are used in the production of industrial heat can be produced from oils, sugars, and starches found in food crops like corn and soybeans. That’s right – agricultural crop residue can become fuel for the industrial sector!

Biofuels are considered renewable resources, as the energy contained within biomass utilized is energy from the sun which is captured through the process of photosynthesis. As long as the amount of biomass grown is equal to or less than the amount that is being used, biomass can be used indefinitely to create biofuels without adding to the global climate crisis.

Decarbonization through Carbon Capture and Storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is another technology that can help industries achieve decarbonization. CCS involves three main steps:

  • the capture of CO₂ from gas emission sources,
  • the transportation of CO₂ to the storage site, and
  • the injection of CO₂ deep underground in reservoirs where it is safely stored indefinitely.

Carbon capture and storage is a useful decarbonization tool for industries that depend heavily on fossil fuels and may require a long period of time for implementation of low-emission alternatives, and for industries where possible alternatives to fossil fuel use have not yet been identified or developd.

Decarbonization through Policy and Coordinated Efforts

While it would be great if industries decided on their own accord to decarbonize, this is not always an easy direction for a company to take when their competitors do not. Policy plays an important part in getting the ball rolling when it comes to industrial decarbonization, and is often even welcomed by industry because it creates a level playing field for all.

A few ways in which policy and governments can incentivize industrial decarbonization include:

  • increasing the cost of using fossil fuels in industrial processes,
  • creating stricter energy efficiency or emission standards, and
  • creating funding to help address financial costs for industries adopting alternative technologies.

Governments also can assist workers directly in shifting to greener processes and industries with training programs and incentives.

In addition, collaboration between industries is also important when it comes to making industrial decarbonization a possibility. The Mission Possible Partnership (MPP) is a great example! The MMP is comprised of four non-governmental organizations: Energy Transmissions Commission, Rocky Mountain Institute, the We Mean Business coalition, and the World Economic Forum.

This partnership aims to promote decarbonization by engaging CEOs and customers from carbon-intensive industries, capital providers such as banks which have the financial capacity to contribute to the development of the necessary technological innovations, and stakeholders throughout the supply chain in order to encourage the simultaneous adoption of clean practices.

As you can see, industrial decarbonization is no easy feat. It will take dedication, innovation, and collaboration, but it is entirely possible! Don’t forget that it is always possible for you to take action as well! Call on your elected officials at the federal and municipal levels in order to voice your concerns and interest in decarbonizing heavy industry. It’s important to show that people do care about these issues and believe in the need to green our economies through decarbonization.

You can also support the transition to a low carbon economy by considering an electric vehicle, purchasing carbon offsets for your travel emissions and simply planting trees!

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