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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Alternative technology pathways for reducing emissions in primary industry

Thematic area: Energy, resources, environment
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy
Status: ongoing
Current project phase: Start in early 2020
Duration: 2020 till 2021

Background and central aspects of the topic

Following the energy sector, the industrial sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) in Germany, accounting for approximately 20 % of total emissions. According to the German Federal Government's Climate Action Plan 2050, emissions in this sector shall be reduced by around 50 % by 2030 compared to 1990 (approximately 22 % compared to 2014) in order to be able to achieve the goal of becoming largely GHG-neutral by 2050.

Currently, about two thirds of the GHG emissions attributed to the industrial sector are related to energy (combustion of fossil fuels to provide process heat, steam or mechanical energy) and one third is related to processes (e. g. in the cement industry due to burning limestone to cement clinker). Furthermore, CO2 emissions arising after the use phase of products made of fossil carbon (e. g. plastics) due to combustion or degradation processes have to be taken into account. Although these emissions are attributed to the waste sector, they mainly originate from industry. This also applies to CO2 emissions caused by external electricity purchases, which are attributed to the energy sector. This means that reduction measures in the industrial sector can also have an impact on other sectors.

Significant approaches aiming at reducing energy-related emissions include efficiency increases and the use of largely CO2-neutral energy sources. Options for reducing waste-related emissions involve extended useful lives of carbonaceous products and increased recycling rates for these products or using alternative carbon sources, e. g. biomass or CO2 captured from the air (Carbon Capture and Utilization [CCU]). The biggest challenge, however, is the reduction of process-related GHG emissions, as this requires fundamental conversions of conventional industrial processes and/or the substitution of raw materials or products.

The potential of low-GHG technology pathways depends on many factors ranging from technical feasibility and scalability to economic efficiency and – in case of using substitutes – the availability of raw materials to the properties of products manufactured by means of modified processes or raw materials. Finally, conversions in conventional industrial manufacturing processes also have economic impacts on the industries themselves, on customer segments and – last but not least – on technology developers and plant manufacturers.

Objectives and approach

The project will focus on alternative low-GHG or GHG-free technology pathways in the emission-intensive basic industries (e. g. lime and cement industry, iron and steel industry, basic chemical industry). For these industrial sectors, the project will identify and present the options that are most promising – from a technical point of view – for reducing GHG emissions by means of alternative manufacturing processes and substitutions of raw materials or products (state of research and maturity level of technology, technical and industrial feasibility and scalability, etc.). For options with a high technical reduction potential, the economic efficiency compared to conventional procedures (development, investment and operating costs, etc.) will be estimated - insofar as this is possible according to the current state of research and development. Where applicable, existing obstacles to the realisation of technically and economically promising options will be examined (e. g. regulatory obstacles, resistance from industry) and political options will be derived with regard to eliminating these obstacles and promoting diffusion into industrial practice (e. g. incentive systems, funding measures, research needs, regulatory framework conditions). Then, economic implications will be identified for the most promising reduction options. In this context, relevant research questions refer to impacts on the competitiveness of German companies (in the above-mentioned industries, but also among technology developers and plant manufacturers), impacts on employees in industry and – if product properties change as a result of process conversions or using substitutes – impacts on the customer segments of the products.