How industry can become climate neutral

Greenhouse gas emissions from heavy industry are being discussed more and more. This is good because it is a necessary part of a transition to a climate neutral society. Industry can adopt several different strategies to achieve this.
  • New manufacturing processes. Perhaps the most widely known example is to use hydrogen from fossil fuels instead of coal in steel production. Development work with big potential is being pursued here. ( Similar work also needs to be done within other industries. However, it is important to bear in mind that this takes time. A demonstration site for fossil fuel free steel production can be ready by 2025 and fossil fuel free steel can then be widely available by 2035.
  • More efficient materials. Just as industry is working with energy efficiency measures, work should similarly be continuously done to make materials more efficient. There is big potential to save materials in areas such as house building and vehicle manufacturing. One problem here, however, is that the cost of materials is often a pretty limited proportion of the sticker price the end customer sees. As such, there are no great financial incentives to go down this route.
  • Using bio-based raw materials. If bio-based materials are produced in a sustainable way, plastic manufacturing, timber housing and biofuels for heavy goods vehicles and aircraft, can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. However, biofuels are in limited supply and there’s not enough to go round for everything. Here too, it can take time to develop new production processes.
  • Circular solutions. As a rule of thumb, re-using and recycling materials leads to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. However, this cannot be the only solution as there is a limit to the amount of material that can be recycled. Here too, it can also take time to develop new processes and regulatory frameworks.
  • “Carbon Capture and Storage” (CCS). The technology to capture and store carbon dioxide is well-known, but has only been tried to a limited extent on a large scale. It can be an interesting alternative for processing industry and waste combustion in particular, and to create so-called negative emissions if these are used in association with the combustion of biofuels. It is important that here too, developing it on a large scale is started to be able to test and evaluate the pros and cons of CCS.

The brief review above shows that there are several different strategies available that can be used. Heavy industry is therefore facing an exciting development period that will call for plenty of talented engineers. At the same time, it is worth noting that all strategies have limitations and that it will take time before they gain complete penetration. This is shown in the eagerness to get started, however, society also needs to look at other strategies as well. These include investigating scope to reduce demand for emission intensive products and materials.

Tip of the week: KTH Sustainability Research Day den 28/11 is almost fully booked. Register here as soon as possible.