Climate: Industrial CO2 emissions need to be targeted as part of greenhouse gas reduction efforts

asdf  Gavin Houtheusen/Department for International Development
Industrial facilities like cement plants must be considered in global plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Photo courtesy  Gavin Houtheusen/Department for International Development, via Wikipdia and the Creative Commons.

Carbon capture and storage may be a critical part of the equation

Staff Report

While energy production is the main focus of greenhouse reduction efforts, heavy industry also needs to be considered, according to new research showing that mitigation strategies are needed to address CO2 emissions from heavy industry, including oil refining and the production of cement and steel.

Meeting climate targets requires an urgent effort to “demonstrate and implement carbon capture and storage, CCS, and other carbon dioxide mitigation technologies,” according to Chalmers University of Technology researcher Johan Rootzén. “While this will involve major investments in primary production, our results suggest that there will only be marginal impacts on costs and prices in the end-use sectors.”

Based on Chalmers University research, the targets to lower CO2 emissions from Europe’s basic industries are out of reach without those technologies,” Rootzén said.

“There is a lack of strategy from political actors about how emissions from these industries should be reduced, even though these industries are responsible for a tenth of emissions of carbon dioxide in Europe and nearly 20 percent in Sweden”, says Johan Rootzén. “At the same time Sweden and the EU have a target in which emissions should be almost zero by 2050.”

Even large-scale shifts to renewable energy won’t address those industrial emissions, and forecast economic growth is likely to result in a continued high demand for bulk products like steel and cement.

“The clock is ticking,” Rootzén said. “Plants within heavy industry have very long lifespans, so implementation of new technology and new solutions take a long time. There are only a few investment cycles left to year 2050. If the EU is serious about reducing emissions by 80-90 percent by 2050, then the issue of how to finance the development and implementation of innovative process technology must be brought to the table now.”

That means the greenhouse gas emissions from those sectors need to be addressed at the source with measures like carbon dioxide capture and storage. But number of questions on how these technologies can be implemented remain. It is especially urgent to establish large-scale demonstration of the entire CCS chain; capture, transport and storage.

“It is easy to say that we should achieve zero emissions, but this requires that we take the issues seriously and are given the opportunity to demonstrate new technologies,” said professor Filip Johnsson who has been leading the Chalmers research.

“Our research suggests that, without a shift in technology then refineries, steel and cement industries alone are going to be the source of up to a quarter of the emissions in 2050,” said Johnsson who has been leading the Chalmers research in the field.

Rootzén said a shift in technology to a less carbon intense production of steel and cement would only have a marginal effect on the final price of a car or a house, despite the large investments required in the production step of the primary materials. This is because the cost of these materials is such a small part of the cost of the final product.

He now hopes that he and his colleagues’ research will lead to politicians in both Sweden and Europe taking the decision to pave the way for CCS and other mitigation technologies, which could seriously reduce emissions from energy-intensive industry.

“This is one of the major critical issues we must deal with. The choice of path that we make in Sweden and Europe can, of course, only affect the global development so much. But we, who have to a large extent built up our industries and economies on coal, oil, steel and cement have, in my opinion, a responsibility to lead the way and develop measures which can show the rest of the world that it is possible to achieve ambitious emission reduction targets”, says Johan Rootzén.

Read Rootzén’s thesis on the subject: Pathways to deep decarbonisation of carbon-intensive industry in the European Union – Techno-economic assessments of key technologies and measures

As of today there are 22 large-scale carbon capture and projects in operation or under construction globally. The total carbon dioxide capture capacity of these projects is around 40 million tons per year – comparable to the total annual carbon dioxide emissions from a country like Ireland.

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