Take cement production for example: I won’t go too deep into the chemistry, but basically cement starts life as limestone, which is mainly calcium carbonate, and you have to turn it into lime or calcium oxide. This process requires high heat, which removes carbon and oxygen from the limestone.releasing carbon dioxidethe famous greenhouse gas.
Therefore, even if there is an alternative fuel to heat the kiln, cement production has the baked emissions.
And for some industrial products, oil and natural gas are the starting point. Plastics are a classic example: most single-use plastics are derived from fossil fuels. This is also the case with other chemicals, such as the detergents in your hand soap or the fragrances in your perfume.
The icing on the cake is that the sheer size of industrial facilities means that it can be difficult and very expensive to make changes. A major steel plant can cost more than a billion dollars to build, and they typically run for decades, so companies looking to reduce emissions in the future need to invest big money in new technology, and soon.
What can we do about it?
New decarbonized ways of producing steel, cement and chemicals are still in the research or pilot stage, and there is no clear winner yet for any of these industries. But there are some approaches that are gaining momentum.
Using hydrogen as an alternative fuel could be one of the easiest ways to reduce emissions from industries such as steel. Some equipment would have to be adjusted, but hydrogen combustion is the closest to the method used today, which relies mainly on coal or natural gas. At ClimateTech, I’ll be speaking with Maria Persson Gulda, CTO of H2 Green Steel, to discuss the role hydrogen can play in steel production.
Green hydrogen was one of our 10 breakthrough technologies in 2021; you can read more about its potential and possible challenges here.