Electrification needed for CO2-neutral industry

Electrification of production processes is inevitable to make industry nett CO2 neutral. Ultimately, the fossil fuels in industry have to be completely replaced by sustainably generated electricity. This requires many new technologies and an additional challenge is to integrate the highly fluctuating supply of renewable electricity into the industrial process.

With the use of new technologies, CO2 emissions from industry will have to be reduced by at least five megatons by 2030.

One of the successful initiatives in this area is VoltaChem, a Shared innovation programme for electrification of the chemical industry, led by ECN part of TNO and TNO Industry. This sector consumes a lot of gas-fired heat and so there is a lot to be gained here. In VoltaChem, we work together with the chemical industry, the energy sector, installation manufacturers and suppliers, among others. In a relatively short period of time, technologies have been developed such as electrochemical conversion of biomass to high-grade plastics and the conversion of CO2 to formic acid.

Breakthrough technologies

Through VoltaChem, ECN part of TNO is active in a series of national and international projects to bring about and accelerate the electrification of the industry. In this we work together with companies, universities and other knowledge institutes. We are working on pioneering technologies such as electrolysis, conversion of sustainable hydrogen into fuels and chemicals (Power2Hydrogen), conversion of electricity into heat (Power2Heat) and direct electrochemical conversion into chemicals (Power2Chemicals). We are going to demonstrate various techniques that we have tested in the lab in the newly to be established field lab for electrification in Rotterdam. Initiators VoltaChem, Deltalinqs and FME are currently exploring the feasibility of such a fieldlab in the region of Zuid-Holland.

Short and long term

As energy-intensive industries will be completely different from their current counterparts by 2050, technology also needs to be developed to significantly reduce CO2 emissions in the future. Technological solutions for electrification in the short term must not be a 'lock-in' that creates barriers to further innovation. That is why ECN part of TNO always keeps a close eye on the balance between short and long term. In a recently published roadmap for electrification, we outline the coming changes in the (petro)chemical, steel, cement, food and paper sectors and which technologies can play a role in this respect, and in what timeframe.

Making separation processes more sustainable

There is still a long way to go to make the electrification of energy-intensive industry a success. We are now examining what technically and economically feasible solutions can be adopted in the short, medium and long term. One of the promising short-term options currently being explored is the use of electricity for chemical separation processes: Power2Separate. Where possible, we translate the knowledge we build up with this into other sectors. For each application we develop for a sector, we check whether it can also be used in another application.

Towards CO2 neutral industry

Yvonne van Delft, MSc

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Yvonne van Delft, MSc

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ECN part of TNO

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