Making the industrial energy transition feasible and affordable

The transformation to a carbon emissions-free and circular industry by 2050 is feasible and affordable if the right choices are made. However, there are so many possible choices that this complexity threatens to slow down the decision-making process. TNO approaches Industrial Transformation from a systemic perspective. In this way, we support large consumers such as the steel industry, petrochemicals, and refineries in their strategic decision-making by calculating the consequences of choices. And public authorities can make informed decisions to accelerate the industrial energy transition and to keep energy and raw material supplies clean, available, and affordable for the future.

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Accelerating the industrial energy transition

The goals of the national government and the European Union are clear: a 55% reduction in carbon emissions (compared with the 1990 benchmark year) by 2030 and zero carbon emissions by 2050. That means a very steep drop in emissions over the next eight years, while negative emissions will actually be required over the following 20 years. Although this transition affects all sectors, industry, as the largest emitter (32%), faces the biggest challenge. In addition, there are targets in the area of circularity.

Green energy carriers

For their industrial transformation, fortunately, large industrial consumers can choose from a wide range of emission-reducing options, such as energy capture, storage, and conversion. Substantial additional energy savings are therefore possible within existing processes, but companies can also invest in completely new, more efficient processes. Industry can also reduce its emissions by replacing fossil raw materials with biological alternatives. Another important step towards decarbonisation is the use of sustainable energy carriers, such as green electricity, green hydrogen and ammonia.

Blue hydrogen

Where renewable sources are not sufficient, it is also possible to use fossil fuels in a cleaner fashion. Capturing the carbon dioxide in natural gas beforehand (blue hydrogen) or after combustion and storing it underground prevents large emissions into the atmosphere. If this CO2 is extracted from biogenic raw materials and stored underground, one can even achieve negative emissions.

Circular Raw Materials

Industry is also at the beginning of the transition to circular raw materials, such as waste (recyclate), bio-based raw materials or CO2. With the help of renewable electricity, it is even possible to use carbon dioxide as a raw material for high-quality chemical products, for reinforcing concrete or as a transport fuel, for example.

Links of industry chain interdependent

The biggest challenge for industry is that it can hardly see clearly the consequences of its choices. Many branches of industry are already interlinked with suppliers and customers, and these chains will also change as a consequence of the energy transition.

The consequence of this interdependence is that every decision not only affects a company’s own operations, but also the chain and, ultimately, the entire energy and raw materials system. Collaboration is therefore essential for industry to be sustainable, reliable, and affordable.

Importance to society

In order to keep the various transition paths heading in the right direction and to orchestrate the industrial transition, we need an independent organisation that can connect all the links. As a non-profit organisation, TNO is the right party to represent the interests of society in the energy transition. TNO’s independent scientists offer not only the technical competence to shape the industrial transformation, but also insight into legislation, open innovation, and transition modelling

Mission-driven research

Companies want to know the best time for them to invest in sustainable technology. Public authorities have the societal task of keeping industrial production clean, reliable, and affordable to accelerate the industrial energy transition. For their part, citizens are concerned about the consequences of climate change, high energy prices, and quality of life.

Fortunately, the models show that the cost price of steel, plastics or, for example, fertilisers does not increase significantly in emission-free production. But the companies and public authorities do have to make the right choices, work together, share burdens, and make appropriate plans for the transition. This is where TNO, with its mission-driven research, can be a strong, independent partner.


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Martijn de Graaff MSc

  • chemical
  • formulation
  • separation
  • process
  • modular