Thermal energy storage offers possibility of large-scale sustainable transformation of industry
In cooperation with
Europeon Energy Research Alliance (EERA)
Industrial thermal energy storage (TES) has the potential to make a major contribution to reducing the greenhouse effect. The majority of industrial energy demand consists of process heat, which is currently generated from fossil fuels. TES makes it possible to meet this demand using renewable energy. The EU’s annual industrial emissions, amounting to more than 500 megatonnes of CO2 equivalents, could thus be reduced to zero. TES also uses common materials, keeping storage costs relatively low.
These are the conclusions drawn in a study by the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA), to which TNO made important contributions. Dozens of research institutions in more than 30 different countries work together within the EERA to help make a climate-neutral society a reality. They carry out this work in 18 joint programmes (JPs), of which TNO coordinates the programme Energy Efficiency in Industrial Processes, which published the white paper Industrial Thermal Energy Storage, Supporting the transition to decarbonise industry in late 2022.
The report provides an overview of technologies and applications, and makes recommendations for policy and further technological development.
The numerous plans drawn up with the aim of decarbonising industry and making it more sustainable focus mainly on topics such as electrification and hydrogen, but pay relatively little attention to thermal energy storage. Industry is also still hesitant about taking steps in this area. However, TES is essential if we want to replace much of the gas, oil, and coal we consume with renewable energy as a way of powering thermal industrial processes. The researchers state that, in principle, the heat demand of industry could be made completely sustainable in this way. This would amount to potential energy savings of some 1,800 terawatt hours (TWh) for European industry, reducing carbon emissions by 513 megatonnes a year.
Smarter matching of supply and demand
Other benefits of thermal energy storage include better utilisation of residual heat, which increases process efficiency, and smarter matching of supply and demand. This means that cheap electricity could be stored as thermal energy during off-peak hours and then used at peak times, for example. TES can also help make electricity grids and heat networks more stable, for example by allowing peaks in the demand for electrically generated heat to be spread out, and by allowing demand for heat to be met temporarily using stored heat at times when little electricity is available.
The low uptake of TES to date is mainly due to unfamiliarity with the subject matter and the lack of clear business cases. Nevertheless, the paper highlights various examples of successful industrial applications of TES, including a steel factory and solar power plant in Spain, a brewery in Germany, road construction in Switzerland, and a meat processing company and chemical plant in Norway.
TNO actively involved in Joint Programmes
EERA has 18 Joint Programmes working on technologies that aim to make the EU climate neutral by 2050, making it a key player in the European Union’s Strategic Energy Technology (SET) plan. TNO coordinates the JP Energy Efficiency in Industrial Processes and the Thermochemical Platform and Stationary Bioenergy subprogrammes of the JP Bioenergy, the CO2 Capture subprogramme of the JP Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the Programme Planning & Outreach subprogramme of the JP Wind, the Exploration of Geothermal Reservoirs subprogramme of the JP Geothermal, and the Tandem and Multi-Junction PV subprogramme of the JP Photovoltaic Solar Energy.