Decarbonization brings operational, economic, and environmental gains to industry and is essential for achieving more sustainable industrial processes.
Whenever fossil fuels – coal and oil, for example – are burned to generate energy, carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere. This means that gases emitted by vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel, in the production of electricity, in industry, and in so many other places, are harmful to the environment and even to human health. After all, carbon dioxide is one of the main causes of global warming experienced today.
The concept of decarbonization
Decarbonization refers to the search for reduction and, in the long term, elimination of carbon dioxide emissions in human and industrial activity in general. More precisely, this means the conversion to an industrial/economic system that sustainably reduces and offsets carbon dioxide emissions (CO₂).
It also refers to the reduction or elimination of carbon dioxide from energy sources. According to the World Economic Forum, total decarbonization of our energy systems is the only solution for stabilizing the climate. In practice, achieving zero net emissions requires the change to clean energy sources.
Energy efficiency, consumption and production of energy in a sustainable and effective way, process improvement, and other concepts have been explored for more than 10 years, but on a global scale we can reference the Paris Agreement, agreed to by 195 UN member countries in 2015.
This treaty establishes greenhouse gas emission reduction measures to be adopted in order to contain global warming below 2 ˚C, preferably 1.5 ˚C, and strengthen the capacity of countries to respond to the challenge in a context of sustainable development.
In addition to the Paris agreement, there are other treaties and regulations that develop the concept of decarbonization indirectly with actions that lead to greenhouse gas reductions, such as certain ISO standards.
The creation and implementation of the ISO 50001 standard in 2011, not only in Brazil but worldwide, aims to encourage companies to produce and consume energy in a sustainable and efficient manner. It supports the implementation and maintenance of the EMS (Energy Management System).
This standard establishes requirements that need to be met by companies to ensure better energy performance and increase sustainable consumption to facilitate business activities. It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reduce energy costs and other related environmental impacts through systematic energy management.
The model in the ISO 50001 standard is based on other management systems that are used worldwide, such as the ISO 14001 environmental model, ISO 9001 quality model, and OHSAS 18001.
In addition, some points have shown improvements, such as the use and development of technologies for the use of photovoltaic and wind energy, for example. Over the last five years, the use of these alternatives by companies and individuals has increased and has been encouraged by the government through tax reduction incentives.
How to implement
Decarbonization can be adopted in two ways: by changing the energy source for industrial processes or by improving these processes
The first way consists mainly in the adoption of renewable energy sources. Among them solar and wind energy stand out. Both are on the upswing and are increasingly being used in the various sectors of the economy, and in the case of solar energy, even in homes.
This means the substitution of fossil fuel sources by others that will not only bring benefits to the environment, but also have tax incentives and discounts on paid energy invoices, for example.
With regard to the second way, various different aspects can be adopted. The replacement of equipment with more modern technologies that have better efficiency and potential for automation has great advantages. Together with this strategy, the use of an energy input management system in which monitoring and control of consumption can be achieved, as well as balancing of mass, energy, and CO2 emission equivalents is essential for industry sustainability and to achieve the goals established for decarbonization.
The steel and metallurgical industries are the ones that emit the most polluting gases into the environment. According to the Institute for Industrial Productivity India, certain actions can be adopted in these industries. One of them is the installation of blast furnace (BF) efficiency programs. These programs improve efficiency and/or decrease production losses in different ways, such as by using high quality ore, increasing the productivity and energy efficiency of the steelmaking process. The technique can reduce CO2 emissions by 15-80 kg/t of hot metal.
Another option would be to increase the use of fuel injection by means of pulverized coal injection (PCI), natural gas, biomass or using coke oven gas in the BF as energy source, to cite only a few options. Energy savings can be estimated at 3.76 GJ/t for injected coal, for example. If the average rate of pulverized coal injection (PCI) at a global level was 180 kg/t-metal hot, about 10 Mt of CO2 could be avoided.
Biomass, such as heated, dried sugar, sugarcane, or pyrolized eucalyptus , can also be used as a reducer or alternative fuel. The PCI can be fully replaced by charcoal in large BFs, that is, reducing carbon emissions by approximately 40% (Institute for Industrial Productivity India). In this case it would be regionally dependent, since the volume of biomass available is dependent on areas where biomass supply is guaranteed.
Finally, another method is the use of scrap metal in electric arc furnaces. This process maximizes recycling by melting more scrap in the EAFs. The operation of electric arc furnaces (EAFs) is based mainly on steel or iron alloy scrap as input for the production of steel or other iron alloys, and has a significantly lower environmental impact compared to BFs (Institute for Industrial Productivity India). Together with EAFs, it is interesting that the energy supply based on renewable energy is guaranteed and has commercial advantages compared to other energy sources.
Main benefits of industrial decarbonization:
All of these different strategies bring benefits to industry, whether operational, economic, or environmental. It is important to note that these three aspects are interlinked.
When equipment is more efficient, raw material use drops, generating a savings for the company. This also ultimately puts less strain on the environment in addition to reducing tailings from the operation.
Another perspective to be evaluated is the use of renewable energy sources, i.e. solar, biomass, wind, water, tidal, and geothermal. The use of such technologies has tax and economic incentives, which means that there is a reduction in electricity spending in companies, for example. And the fact that it is renewable indicates that the use of sources harmful to the environment will be offset or avoided.
Benefits for industry
- More efficient processes.
- Improvement in the image of industry to consumers.
- Contribution to the economic development of sustainable sectors of the economy.
- Tax incentives and tax reduction.
- Lower relative payback.
- Generation of sustainability certifications for the business.
Benefits for the environment
With regard to the environment, decarbonization is an ally of sustainability. This is because carbon dioxide emission is one of the most negative environmental impacts of human activity, representing a threat to the ecosystem and to life on the planet. Thus, when people and organizations actively seek to reduce these CO2 emission indices, it is possible to reduce these impacts and, therefore, contribute to sustainability at a global level.
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