Energy intensive industries are one of the key greenhouse gas emitters, accounting for about 25 per cent of total CO2 emissions globally. Mark Venables looks at three examples where the cement, steel and chemical industries are piloting processes to reduce their emissions.
The decarbonisation of industries producing cement, iron and steel, and chemicals/petrochemicals is a top priority to attain carbon neutrality and Paris Agreement targets. These industries are the backbone for modern economies, and they will play an important role in driving a low-carbon post-Covid recovery – among many other uses, steel and concrete structures are required for wind power, thermal insulation for energy efficiency, and lightweight materials for electric cars.
Plenty of challenges remain to achieving a carbon-neutral industry. They include a wide range of unreplaceable energy-intensive carbon-emitting industrial processes, low-profit margins for commodity products in a global competitive environment and the expected rise of demand for carbon-intensive materials in sectors such as buildings, transport, and health care.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Tracking Industry 2020 report, direct industrial CO2 emissions, including process emissions, declined 0.6 per cent to 8.5 GtCO2 in 2018 (24 per cent of global emissions), like the trend of relatively flat emissions in the past several years. The modest decline occurred largely in non-energy-intensive industries. To meet the sustainability goals, industry emissions must fall by 1.2 per cent annually to 7.4 GtCO2 by 2030 – despite expected industrial production growth. Greater energy efficiency, the uptake of renewable fuels, and research and deployment of low-carbon process routes including CCS are all critical. Governments can accelerate progress by providing innovation funding and adopting mandatory CO2 emissions reduction and energy efficiency policies.
Green hydrogen aids the cement industry
A collaboration between researchers at the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea University and cement producer Hanson UK has seen the installation of a new green hydrogen demonstration unit at the company’s Regen GGBS plant in Port Talbot, South Wales.
The demonstration unit, which generates green hydrogen through renewable energy, has been developed as part of the £9.2m Reducing Industrial Carbon Emissions (RICE) project which has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government, and is aimed at the deployment of industrial scale demonstrations of new technology.
Cement production is energy intensive due to the high temperatures required to produce clinker – the main component of Portland cement. Hanson’s Port Talbot plant produces Regen GGBS, ground granulated blast furnace slag, which is used as a replacement for up to 80 per cent of the cement in concrete. Although Regen is also an energy intensive product, using large amounts of natural gas and electricity, its carbon footprint is about one tenth of Portland cement. The aim of the demonstration unit is to replace some of the natural gas used at the plant with green hydrogen, which is considered a clean source of energy as it only emits water when burned, reducing CO2 emissions from the burner, and reducing the carbon footprint of Regen even further.
The demonstration unit is producing hydrogen at Hanson’s Port Talbot plant through the process of electrolysis. Renewable energy is generated through wind and solar on site and the energy is directed into the electrolyser or water splitting device. The electrolyser can efficiently utilise this energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then passed into the burner to enrich the combustion mixture, saving carbon emissions from the burning of natural gas.
Leading this work is Dr Charlie Dunnill and his team who are based at the Energy Safety Research Institute.
“It has been a pleasure to work with the staff at Hanson and it is amazing to see technology from our labs interacting in real time with local industry, actually producing hydrogen that can be burned in exchange for natural gas to lower their green-house emissions,” he says. “Cement manufacture is one of the most energy and carbon intensive industries and therefore a perfect place to start making impacts in carbon reduction.”
It is estimated that cement is the source of just under 1.5 per cent of UK CO2 emissions. With demand for cement and cement replacement products predicted to increase by a quarter by 2030, researchers and industry working hard to reduce the level of carbon emissions associated with production.
Data from the units installed at Hanson’s Port Talbot plant will be monitored for a period to achieve maximum efficiencies and highlight any potential enhancements. Having access to facilities to scale up the demonstration units is a vital part of the project, and Hanson UK has been an enthusiastic participant from an early stage.
“As a company we take our commitment to sustainability very seriously,” Marian Garfield, head of sustainability at Hanson UK, adds. “In the UK, we have already achieved a 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions since 1990 across the business and have set an ambitious new target of a 50 per cent reduction by 2030 from the same baseline. We are constantly looking to improve energy efficiency and carbon reduction at our cement and Regen plants, so we are delighted to be involved with this innovative research project.”
Following the successful deployment of the unit at Hanson’s Regen GGBS plant, further units can now be deployed at additional sites. The team is also in discussions with other heavy industries on the potential to install units at other sites.
Professor Andrew Barron, the principle investigator of the RICE project, summarised the achievement, “As we head towards the UK’s 2050 goal of net zero it is important to give industry scalable pathways to reach that end,” he says. “The RICE project is all about doing this, since there is no longer time for more research projects, it is time for action.”
Delivering fossil-free steel
The global steel industry is one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide, representing approximately seven per cent of global CO2 emissions. Demand for fossil-free steel is growing substantially with strong interest from global market leaders in sectors such as automotive, commercial vehicles, white goods, and furniture. The steel industry is struggling to accelerate the transition to fossil-free steel manufacturing at scale.
One innovation in the steel industry is occurring in Sweden where H2 Green Steel (H2GS) are planning to be a large-scale steel producer based on a fossil-free manufacturing process targeting large European OEMs. Located in the Boden-Luleå region in northern Sweden that offers unique conditions for fossil-free steel production, the project includes a giga-scale green hydrogen plant as an integrated part of the steel production facility. Production will begin in 2024 and by 2030, H2GS hopes to have annual production capacity of five million tons of high-quality steel. Henrik Henriksson, currently CEO of Scania, will lead the company.
An important source of inspiration for the initiative is the ground-breaking HYBRIT project. H2GS looks forward to a close collaboration with the HYBRIT founders, sharing the vision to position Sweden at the forefront of fossil-free steel production. The HYBRIT project was launched in 2016 as a joint venture between the utility Vattenfall, iron ore producer LKAB and steel maker SSAB. The process that HYBRIT is piloting in Luleå, a small town in northern Sweden, holds the key to unlocking dramatic CO2 emissions reduction for steelmaking. By using hydrogen instead of coal as a reduction agent to remove the oxygen from the iron in iron ore, the most critical step in the steel value chain becomes virtually free of carbon emissions. These steel plants can replace polluting blast furnaces with a process that emits water vapour instead of CO2.
“We want to accelerate the transformation of the European steel industry,” Carl-Erik Lagercrantz, chairman of the board of H2GS explains. “Electrification was the first step in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation industry. The next step is to build vehicles from high-quality fossil-free steel.”
Anders Williamsson, executive vice president, head of purchasing, Scania, explains that a Scania truck weighs about six tons and five of those are steel, which today is produced with a substantial carbon footprint. “By investing in and partnering with H2 Green Steel we are now further accelerating the journey towards emission free products across the whole value chain,” he explains. “It is a significant increase in ambition, which will not only contribute to Scania delivering on the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, but also raising the bar even further.”
Carbon capture cleans up chemicals
Tata Chemicals Europe (TCE) has unveiled plans to build the UK’s first industrial-scale carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) demonstration plant, which will reduce its carbon emissions whilst ensuring a secure, sustainable supply of carbon dioxide, a raw material critical to the business’s international growth.
The first large-scale CCU project of its kind in the UK, the project also marks a world first in capturing and purifying carbon dioxide from power generation plant emission gases to use as a key raw material to manufacture high purity sodium bicarbonate. The project will help pave the way for other industrial applications of carbon dioxide capture and is an important step in decarbonising industrial activity and supports the government’s recently announced target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
With planning permission granted the CCU at TCE’s Northwich industrial site, is scheduled to commence carbon dioxide capture operations later in 2021. Supporting the government’s Clean Growth Strategy, the £16.7m project will be funded by TCE with the support of a £4.2m grant from the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through the Carbon Capture and Utilisation Demonstration (CCUD) Programme.
Tata Chemicals Europe is the UK’s only manufacturer of soda ash and sodium bicarbonate and is one of the UK’s leading producers of salt. The high-quality products made by TCE are essential input materials used in glass, food, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors. The CCU project supports growth of TCE’s largest export product; high-grade sodium bicarbonate used in food and pharmaceutical applications.
TCE is the largest single site user of liquid carbon dioxide in the UK. Food grade liquid carbon dioxide is an essential raw material, used to manufacture high-grade sodium bicarbonate, which is primarily used in the pharmaceutical and hemodialysis sectors.
Global demand for this grade of sodium bicarbonate is growing as more of the world’s population has access to healthcare; TCE already exports 60 per cent of its sodium bicarbonate to over 60 countries across the globe. The CCU project will be a springboard for TCE to unlock further growth into its export markets.
In a unique application of CCU technology, the TCE plant will capture carbon dioxide from the flue gases of TCE’s 96 MWe gas-fired combined heat and power plant (CHP), which supplies steam and power to the company’s Northwich operations and other industrial businesses in the area. The CCU plant will then purify and liquify the gas for use directly in the manufacture of sodium bicarbonate. Deploying CCU technology will reduce emissions, as captured CO2 will be effectively utilised in the manufacturing process rather than being emitted into the atmosphere.
The CCU plant will be capable of capturing and producing up to 40,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide and will reduce TCE’s carbon emissions at the CHP plant by 11 per cent.
Already one of the most efficient power plants in the UK, the CHP plant is a low-carbon source of electricity, currently producing half the amount of CO2 per kWh of electricity generated compared to a typical gas fired power station. Once the CCU plant is operational, this will reduce the CO2 per kWh electricity generated even further.
The CCU demonstration plant will enable Tata to reduce its carbon emissions whilst securing supplies of a critical raw material. It is hoped that this project will demonstrate the viability of CCU and pave the way for further applications of the technology to support the decarbonisation of industrial activity.