We know how to decarbonize energy production with renewable fuels and land transportation with electric vehicles. Blueprints for greening shipping and aircraft are being drawn up. But what about the big industrial processes? They look set to become decarbonization holdouts — the last and hardest CO2 emissions that we must eliminate if we are to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. In particular, how are we to green the three biggest globally-vital heavy industries: steel, cement, and ammonia, which together emit around a fifth of anthropogenic CO2?
Our modern urban environments are largely constructed from concrete — which is made from cement — and steel. Most of our food is grown through the application of fertilizer made from ammonia. These most ubiquitous industrial materials are produced at huge expense of energy and carbon dioxide emissions.
Their staid industries have prospered for over a century using largely unchanged manufacturing processes. But the urgent need to produce green ammonia, steel, and cement is starting to shake them up. Research is providing new options for fundamental changes to chemical processes. And in recent weeks, leading players have announced major initiatives in each of these three crunch industries.
Two emerging technologies are advertising themselves as the “solutions” to decarbonizing problem industries. One is carbon capture and storage (CCS), which aims to capture stack CO2 emissions and bury them in geological structures such as old oilfields or salt mines. The other is “green hydrogen,” made by splitting water using renewable energy. Some see green hydrogen as the dream fuel of the future, powering everything from planes and power stations to homes and heavy industry. [Continue reading…]