Innovation is needed to decarbonize the steel and cement industries in an effort to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit, according to new research published by the Climate Action Tracker which deems current technologies insufficient.
A new study published by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), entitled Manufacturing a Low-Carbon Society: How Can We Reduce Emissions From Cement and Steel?, declares that decarbonizing “heavy industry is key to achieving deep cuts in emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal.” However, the authors of the report conclude that reducing these particular emissions is challenging, considering that “heavy industry emissions are often intrinsically linked to the production process.”
Looking at the steel and cement industries in particular, both of which have large emissions profiles, the two together accounting for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, the steel industry accounts for around 2.8 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) per year, or around 5%, meanwhile, the cement industry has nearly doubled its share of global greenhouse gas emissions, increasing from 2.8% of the global total up to 5.5% in 2010, with more than 2.6 GtCO2e per year.
The necessary steps to decarbonize the global energy system, as laid out by CAT, is to increase energy efficiency in production, introducing a zero-carbon electricity supply, electrification of residual demand, and using zero-carbon fuels. However, these steps are only applicable for the building and transport sectors but are not enough for industry — especially the steel and cement industries.
If the traditional steps listed above were accomplished throughout the cement and steel industries, CAT estimates a 30% to 50% emissions reduction compared to current trends by 2050. Obviously, however, this is not enough.
“In short, emissions from these industrial processes are a difficult nut to crack, as large chunks of them are not related to conventional fossil fuel combustion,” said Sebastian Sterl of NewClimate Institute, one of the lead authors of the study.
The CAT study looked at three different scenarios to better decarbonize the steel and cement industries, based on case studies for the European Union, China, and Nigeria.
For steel, the scenarios are current trends, decarbonization, and steps toward circularity which introduces a maximum transition towards electric arc furnace (EAF) steel manufacturing — which, while only accounting for a third of global steel production (as of 2016), yields energy intensity one-third of that used by the traditional manufacturing process, blast furnace basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF).
The same three scenarios were built to analyze the cement industry, with Scenario C illustrating the effect of material substitution which will increase the efficiency of cement production, leading to an avoidance of cement demand of around 20%.
“To reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, we will need solutions for both of these industries, including increased R&D into innovative, low-emission production processes such as routes using carbon capture and storage (CCS) or renewables-based hydrogen,” explained to Lindee Wong of Ecofys, a Navigant company.
“It will also require a shift to using materials more efficiently, as well as substitution with lower emissions-intensive alternatives,” added Dr. Ursula Fuentes of Climate Analytics.
The full report can be read here.