Alternative technology pathways for reducing emissions in primary industry


Background and central aspects of the topic

The industrial sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Germany after the energy sector, accounting for around 23 % of total emissions (as of 2019). According to the Federal Climate Change Act, emissions in this sector shall be reduced by around 58 % by 2030 compared to 1990 (approximately 37 % compared to 2019), in order to be able to achieve the long-term goal of extensive climate neutrality by 2045.

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 pathways for reducing emissions in primary industry« aims to identify possible pathways for a (largely) climate-neutral and sustainable transformation of the energy-intensive basic industries by 2045 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. 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 examined.


On this basis, possible technology pathways for the realisation of a (largely) climate-neutral basic materials industry in Germany by the year 2045 will be outlined and analysed. The technology pathways will then be examined in terms of their ecological and socio-economic effects and consequences. Finally, for each development pathway, political instruments and measures are to be identified that are suitable for enabling or promoting the implementation of the pathways and for avoiding or at least mitigating possible negative effects or enhancing positive effects.

Project progress

As a basis of information for the project, an expert report was commissioned to address the following key questions: What could or should a (largely) climate-neutral primary industry in Germany look like in 2045? How would the transformation have to be designed in order to achieve not only climate policy goals, but also other ecological, economic and social sustainability goals at the same time? What political course would be necessary to enable a sustainable transformation of the primary industry in Germany?