Take cement manufacturing as an example — I won’t go into the chemistry, but cement basically begins its life as limestone, mostly calcium carbonate, and it needs to be turned into lime, or calcium oxide. This process requires high heat, which sloughs off the carbon and oxygen in the limestone—release carbon dioxidefamous greenhouse gas.
So, even if there is an alternative fuel to heat the kiln, cement production still has the flue gas fired in.
And for some industrial products, oil and natural gas are the starting points. Plastic is a classic example – most single-use plastics are derived from fossil fuels. This is also the case with other chemicals, such as detergents in hand soaps or fragrances in your perfume.
The icing on the cake is the sheer scale of industrial facilities which means making changes can be difficult and very expensive. A large steel plant can cost up to a billion dollars to build, and they often run for decades — so companies looking to cut emissions in the future need to invest a lot of money in technologies. new and early.
What can we do about it?
New, decarbonized methods of making steel, cement, and chemicals are largely still in the research or experimental stages, and there is still no clear winner for any of these industries. But there are a few approaches that are gaining momentum.
Using hydrogen as an alternative fuel could be one of the simplest ways to cut emissions from industries like steel. Some equipment will need to be adjusted, but hydrogen burning is closest to the approach used today, which relies heavily on coal or natural gas. At ClimateTech, I will talk to Maria Persson GuldaCTO of H2 Green Steel, to discuss the role of hydrogen in steel production.
Green Hydrogen is one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2021 — you can read more about its potential and possible challenges, here.