Decarbonizing the industry

The demand for goods, equipment, and energy has increased in line with the growth of the global population and the aspiration of most populations to have a high level of comfort and service. This demand is met by an industrialized and globalized production system that heavily relies on hydrocarbons and coal. As a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the industry is targeted by policies aimed at reducing carbon footprint caused by human activities. The industry faces a dual challenge: decarbonizing its production processes and transitioning manufacturing towards low-carbon products capable of contributing to the overall GHG emissions reduction.

Romain Allais, one of Artelia’s specialists in industrial decarbonization, presents the several levers currently being activated or considered to drive this change.

What proportion of greenhouse gas emissions come from the industrial sector, and how are they categorized?

According to the International Energy Agency, the industry will emit globally 9.15 Gt CO2 eq. in 2022, ranking second behind electricity and heat production (14.65 Gt CO2 eq.) and ahead of transportation (8 Gt CO2 eq.). These industrial emissions are partly due to energy consumption and partly to the use of carbon-based products in manufacturing processes. The so-called “heavy” industry (steel, chemicals, construction materials, etc.), which manufactures the basic products on which all other manufacturing and activities depend, is responsible for the vast majority of GHG emissions in the sector. Some activities such as steel production, cement, nitrogen fertilizers, and petrochemicals are among the most emitting activities. The GHGs produced are mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), but also, to a lesser extent, methane (CH4), fluorinated gases, and nitrous oxide (N2O).

What is the current approach to decarbonization?

According to the region of the world considered, this varies greatly. Firstly, there is regulatory pressure. In Europe, carbon taxation is already strict, but it is expected to become even stricter. This is unlike the United States and China. Another significant factor is the increasing cost of hydrocarbons globally, with Europe being hit hardest. This is pushing industrial stakeholders to take a much greater interest in alternative energies, electrification, and improving the energy efficiency of their production.

There is also a growing awareness of the risks associated with climate change, which is prompting transformations. There is also an increasing importance to image-related concerns. Public pressure regarding environmental and climate preservation is driving companies to assess and reduce their emissions. The industry has a dual responsibility in this regard. It must reduce its carbon footprint while offering low-carbon products to all other sectors to support their decarbonization efforts.

Where are we regarding evaluating our carbon footprint?

It is still a challenging task to determine the carbon footprint of products systematically and accurately, but progress is being made. Adapted databases are beginning to be available, indicating the carbon footprint of each product (based on various parameters such as production location). Therefore, it is possible to determine the overall footprint of a project if one knows how much of a particular material like concrete, steel frame, or pipe is used. However, calculating the carbon footprint of complex equipment like a pump that has multiple components is much more difficult.

This is a subject we are working on extensively at Artelia because our clients increasingly need reliable data on decarbonization. Our ambition is, in close collaboration with them, to measure emissions, considering the entire life cycle of a project: initial investment (capex), operation (OPEX), and after the installation’s first life. We have developed an eco-design methodology to raise awareness and support industrial players on these issues, helping them identify possible gains, that they may not always consider, and activate the right levers. We intervene in design (integrating a waste heat recovery system, for example), but also during project implementation (selecting supplies and providers based on their commitments to reducing their carbon footprint).

What are the main levers for industrial decarbonization? You mentioned transforming production processes...

Improving production processes has always been in the DNA of the industry. Achieving high-volume production with a high level of quality while using the least possible resources has been a constant goal. The difference now is that it is also necessary to produce less GHG emissions, which requires drastic transformations. It is necessary to change raw materials, for example, moving away from coke in steel manufacturing to reduce iron or to limit clinker in cement manufacturing. The use of green hydrogen is being considered to decarbonize specific manufacturing processes, provided it can be produced at viable cost and emission levels. We contribute to such projects.

Meanwhile, recycling or, even better, reusing raw materials after processing must be developed to reduce the emissions associated with raw material extraction and conversion into basic products. This is increasingly practiced for scrap metal, used oils, and plastic, leading to the creation of dedicated plants or the conversion of industrial sites. For example, we contributed to the conversion of TotalEnergies’ Grandpuits refinery into a site including a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production and plastic recycling unit by pyrolysis. We managed the integration of this unit, which allows the return of basic products (ethylene, propylene, etc.) and their repolymerization to recreate plastic from plastic, not from oil.

Regarding the energy aspect, what are the possibilities?

Several avenues are available for action. The first is to replace coal and hydrocarbons with renewable or low-carbon energy sources (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, and nuclear) to produce the electricity and heat needed for manufacturing. This is one of Artelia’s areas of expertise, studying, leading, or participating in the realization of all these categories of installations: hydroelectric power plants, onshore and offshore wind, photovoltaic installations, biomass boilers, surface geothermal systems, nuclear installations including upstream and downstream cycles. This change in energy sources often accompanies the increased electrification of production infrastructures.

Another very important lever is energy efficiency, which involves providing the same service while consuming less energy. This includes recovering waste heat, a very important progress lever in the industry where a lot of heat is dissipated during manufacturing processes. We are currently involved in a project in Germany to create a heat recovery loop on ten refinery units and then to valorise this previously wasted heat by supplying it to the neighbouring city’s district heating network. This contribution can cover nearly 25% of winter needs and 100% in summer, saving other fuels used. In the same vein, we are currently involved in projects to recover and valorise flared gases, notably in Angola for Friedlander.

How do CCUS (carbon capture, utilization, and storage) technologies fit into these decarbonization strategies?

The industrial sector is investing heavily in carbon capture, which is a rapidly growing field. The most developed method involves capturing carbon from combustion fumes and either storing it in disused oil wells or reusing it by combining it with hydrogen to create synthetic gases and fuels. Numerous projects are currently in development, particularly in the United States, where authorities provide subsidies for industrial investments in this area.

In France, we provided support to Axens in its DMX Dunkirk project, a demonstrator aimed at capturing carbon from the fumes generated by steel mills. The project was installed at a French steelworks site owned by ArcelorMittal and has been operational successfully for a few months. We provided the industrial module design (pipework, structure, instrumentation, etc.). Apart from carbon capture, we also work for gas companies on storage and liquefaction/gasification installations, as well as associated maritime infrastructure (LNG terminals, FSRUs, etc.). We can thus intervene at various levels of CCUS projects.

What is the future of decarbonization in your opinion?

CCUS technologies and the reuse of carbon found in plastics, oils, and plants have the potential to be a significant advancement. These technologies enable the production of carbon-based products without using fossil fuels, resulting in a CO2-neutral footprint. Our group has expertise in various fields that can contribute to such projects in the future. This is one of the major strengths of our company.

Decarbonizing the industry and achieving energy transition are crucial for a sustainable future. Significant investments will be required with the need to control the costs of finished products and mobilised energy.