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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: Search for external expertise
Duration: 2021 till 2022

Background and central aspects of the topic

Following the energy sector, the industrial sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Germany, accounting for approximately 23 % 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 25 % compared to 2019) in order to be able to achieve the goal of becoming largely climate neutral by 2050.

Currently, about two thirds of the greenhouse gas 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, for example, caused by the burning of cement clinker, with one third of the raw materials used consisting of mineralized CO2). 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 other sectors, they mainly originate from industrial production. 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. The biggest challenge, however, is the reduction of process-related greenhouse gas emissions, as this requires fundamental conversions of conventional industrial processes and/or the substitution of raw materials or products. If an emission reduction to the required extent is technically, economically or for other reasons not possible, the option remains to capture and use (Carbon Capture and Utilization [CCU]) or to store CO2, for example in geological formations (Carbon Capture and Storage [CCS]).

The potential of new low-emission 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. As the transformation in many industrial sectors is necessarily accompanied by a comprehensive restructuring of conventional technologies, production processes, material flows, value chains and established business models, in addition to unintended environmental effects, economic and social impacts on the affected industries, upstream and downstream sectors (e. g. energy, plant engineering, construction, automotive) and - against the background of carbon leakage risks, among other things - on Germany as a business location in general must also be taken into account.

Objectives and approach

Against this background, the TA project »Alternative Technology Paths for Emission Reduction in the Basic Materials Industry« aims to identify possible paths for a (largely) climate-neutral, environmentally sound, economically and socially compatible transformation of the energy-intensive basic materials industry in Germany by 2050 and to identify the political action required to achieve this.

To this end, a current state of affairs on alternative low-emission technology solutions and manufacturing processes for the energy-intensive basic materials industry is to be developed (state of research and maturity level of technology, technical and industrial feasibility and scalability, etc.). The economic viability of the options compared to conventional processes will be estimated, and existing hurdles and barriers to the adoption of the technology solutions on the large industrial scale required for this will also be highlighted (e.g. regulatory hurdles, resistance in industry).

On this basis, modelling will be developed for the system of the energy-intensive basic materials industry in Germany. Within the framework of simulation experiments, the effects of different policy packages on the future development of the basic industry as well as the socio-economic and ecological consequences of these development paths will be investigated. The aim is to identify among the possible development paths those that appear to be most suitable for a climate-neutral, economically, socially and environmentally compatible transformation of the basic materials industry by 2050, and to specify the political course required for this.

Project progress

Currently we are looking for external expertise. Within the scope of the expert report, the current state of development and the application and savings potentials of alternative technology solutions are to be recorded. In addition, modelling and simulation are to be developed in order to run through possible development paths for the energy-intensive basic materials industry in Germany under the conditions of different political intervention scenarios and to analyse the consequences of these development paths.

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