Industry can also become CO2-neutral

11 July 2018 • 6 min reading time

Accelerate the introduction of sustainable energy, phase out fossil energy smoothly and, at the same time, save energy while ensuring a secure, available and affordable energy supply. This ambition brought together ECN and TNO to cluster their strengths. ECN part of TNO has eight innovation programmes. ‘Towards a CO2-neutral industry’ – five questions and answers.

In order to hit the Paris climate targets, we have to speed up the energy transition. This requires technical, social and policy innovations. ECN part of TNO is taking up the challenge by implementing eight innovation programmes in the coming years, together with Dutch industry, research institutions and the government. Maurice Hanegraaf, business director Geo Energy at TNO, answers five questions about one of these programmes.

1. What is the goal of the programme ‘Towards a CO2-neutral industry’?

“Industry is one of the sectors with the highest CO2 emissions in our country. By 2030, we need to have achieved a 50 million tonne reduction, 30 million of which must come from industry. 80% of energy consumption in industry is in the form of heat. For steel and chemicals, for example, we still need heat of 400 Celsius plus for a long time to come. The demand for this high-temperature heat must therefore be made more sustainable. In this innovation programme, ECN part of TNO is working to achieve the objective for both 2030 and 2050. So that, ultimately, we arrive at a 95 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to 1990.

2. What are the main research lines?

“We are developing new processes to generate high temperatures in a sustainable way or to upgrade (residual) heat to these high temperature levels, and we also creating other processes that can do the same. We are also investigating how natural gas can be replaced by hydrogen - provided it has been produced sustainably, for example through the electrolysis of water. And because we need to bridge the period up to 2050, we are also focusing on the centralised decarbonisation of natural gas, whereby CO2 can be stored in the soil. In short, we are developing new processes, working on energy efficiency and examining transition paths.”

“We develop heat pump technology that cost-effectively upgrades residual heat to temperatures of 150 to 200 degrees Celsius”

3. How can heat be upgraded to useful temperature levels?

“The use of industrial heat pumps is one of the possibilities to upgrade heat in terms of temperature level in a particularly efficient way. The source of these heat pumps can be residual heat or geothermal heat, also known as geothermal energy. We are working on the development of high-temperature heat pumps for the upgrading of industrial residual heat as well as on (ultra-deep) geothermal energy. With a limited amount of electricity (for the heat pumps), the residual heat or the heat produced by a geothermal source can be upgraded to the desired temperature levels. Consortiums that involve end users (from the chemical, paper and food industries) and equipment manufacturers are developing heat pump technology that cost-effectively upgrades residual heat to temperatures of 150 to 200 degrees Celsius. Together with EBN and six industry consortiums, we are working on a deep-subsurface exploration programme that should result in several exploratory drillings to depths of more than 4 kilometres. There the water is so hot - think of temperatures of 150 to 200 degrees - that you produce steam. This is a nice example of the combination of expertise within ECN part of TNO that is helping to make industry more sustainable.”

“With current annual emissions of 40 Gigatonnes, this means that by 2036 we will have to be completely climate-neutral to hit the 2° C target

4. Why is CO2 capture and storage also important?

“As a world, we only have a limited carbon budget available. This is the amount of CO2 we can emit in order to reach the climate target set out in the Paris Agreement. If we are to achieve the two-degree target, the world must restrict further emissions to 722 Gigatonnes of CO2. With current annual emissions of 40 Gigatonnes, this means that by 2036 we will have to be completely climate-neutral. In order to achieve the target of 1.5 degrees, this limit will have to be reached as early as 2021. There are more and more scenarios in which so-called negative emissions are proposed and for which technologies are being developed to remove extra CO2 from the atmosphere and store it below the surface. One technique that has already been developed and can be used now is the capture of large amounts of CO2 from point sources in industry.

“Like the capture of CO2 from flue gases, for example from waste incineration plants or biomass plants. We are working on further reducing the cost of capture by building pilot capture installations, testing technologies and analysing processes. An industrial capture process now costs 60 to 100 euros per tonne of CO2. These capture processes also require steam, so the challenge is to also make this step more energy efficient. In some cases, cleverly integrated processes allow you to use the residual heat produced by industry itself. In the area of storage, for example, we are looking into how we can store CO2 in depleted natural gas fields in the North Sea in such a way that in a few hundred years’ time it will still be safe in the ground.”

At the waste incineration plant in Duiven, TNO helped develop a capture installation with an annual capacity of 50,000 tonnes of CO2

5. HOw are the roles in this innovation programme organised?

“It is not a question of us becoming a supplier of heat pumps, but of companies, especially equipment manufacturers, continuing to develop and marketing them. We prefer to do this with Dutch parties so that not only the CO2 targets are met, but also Dutch industry is stimulated by the development of new products with export potential. Furthermore, we are conducting research into CO2 capture and storage with large companies in the steel and chemical industries, such as Tata Steel and the AVR. At the waste incineration plant in Duiven, TNO helped develop a capture installation with an annual capacity of 50,000 tonnes of CO2. This CO2 is now supplied to the glasshouse horticulture sector. And we are involved in the Porthos project that wants to store CO2 from the port. We complement each other's expertise within ECN part of TNO well and we work closely with the industry in all areas.”

Upgrade to steam

Both in buildings and in industry there is a need for new ways of heating. One of the options is to improve existing heat pumps that 'pimp up' the heat to approximately 50 degrees. However, the industry needs higher temperatures of 130 degrees plus – in other words, steam. Steam is currently being produced from fossil fuels. By upgrading the residual heat to steam using a high-temperature heat pump, the industry is making significant gains in efficiency. In Petten, ECN part of TNO has already built a full-scale test set-up. The technology is expected to be ready for commercial use in three to five years’ time.

Familiarize yourself with the other innovation programmes

How to build a more flexible energy system?

The subsurface has an important part to play in the energy transition

Towards CO2-neutral fuels and raw materials

Can we have too much solar energy?

Houses and offices will soon have energy to spare

This TNO project supports the following Sustainable Development Goals


Do you have any questions or are you interested in a collaboration? Please contact Maurice Hanegraaf.

future view

Solar energy: limits to yield extended further

7 Feb '22 - 4 min
Solar energy is developing at lightning speed. The increase in efficiency is, amongst others, causing a cost reduction. TNO researchers, Eindhoven University of... Read more

Trials with new generation of solar road surfacing

18 Nov '21 - 4 min
Road surfacing can play a significant role in the large-scale generation of solar energy. In the SolaRoad consortium, TNO is working on technology and constructions... Read more

Inventors' Day

9 Nov '21 - 5 min
At TNO, our inventors have been working on the inventions and innovations of tomorrow since 1932. In the context of Inventor's Day, we reflect on some of TNO's inventors... Read more

TNO staff get to grips with the nitrogen crisis with the Brains4nitrogen programme

15 Oct '21 - 4 min
Following the success of the Brains4corona programme, in which TNO focused on tackling the coronavirus in 2020, the organisation is now planning to launch more of... Read more

TNO's Brains4x accelerates innovation on societal challenges in the Netherlands

15 Oct '21 - 2 min
From the corona pandemic to the nitrogen crisis: the Netherlands is facing major challenges. After the success of Brains4corona and Brains4nitrogen, TNO will organize... Read more