The image of wind-turbines working along with large-scale PV plants is the first thing that comes to our mind, when we hear the term Energy Transition. In recent times, there has also been a focus on decarbonising the transport sector with electric vehicles powered by solar and wind energy. The coal gas fired heating system in buildings are being replaced with heat pumps in order to reduce the carbon footprint of our houses and commercial dwellings. While, these are extremely important steps, an important part of the jigsaw puzzle achieving a green transition of global economy remains relatively untouched. The industrial sector, especially the energy-intensive industries (EII) like iron and steel, chemical, cement, non-ferrous metals, paper etc. are the backbone of modern societies. They are the starting point of the complex value chains, which enables the development of infrastructure and services. The industrial sector is responsible for one-third of the total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the technologies used by the manufacturing sector have not evolved at the same pace as other sectors of the economy to embrace the threats of anthropogenic climate change. Emissions from the EII’s could be reduced by interventions on the demand side or the supply side as shown in Figure 1.
Demand side measures like product service life extension, material efficiency improvement, material substitution, and enhanced recycling rates could play a substantial role in improving the GHG footprint of EII’s in the long-term. However, in the short and medium term the demand for new materials is stated to increase on the back of increasing population and improvements in the living standards. The complex nature of the manufacturing processes, use of fossil fuels as feedstock, and long payback periods act as deterrents for the deployment of clean production technologies in the EII’s.
Figure 1 Decarbonisation pathways for the energy intensive industries
Hydrogen for decarbonising industries
The existing production processes in EII’s have been optimized and operate very close to theoretical efficiencies. Carbon capture and storage technologies are still not available at the scale required to capture and store emissions from EII’s. Recent research into fugitive methane emissions from coal and natural gas has revealed that fossil fuel resources cannot be used for a prolonged period without affecting the climate negatively. The focus of our research is to conduct techno-economic assessment of innovative production technologies. In recent times, use of hydrogen as a chemical feedstock as well as a source for high temperature heat has been discussed by researchers, policy makers and industries . Hydrogen has the potential to replace coal in the steel industry as it can be used to reduce iron oxide to iron , . We developed a material and energy balance model to study the specific energy consumption and emissions from a conceptual process, where hydrogen is produced from water electrolysis . It was found that steel production could be completely decarbonized if hydrogen is produced using electricity from renewable resources. The analysis also revealed that approximately 3.72 MWh of electricity will be required to produce one tonne of steel through the hydrogen direct reduction process. We have conducted a techno-economic assessment of using methane pyrolysis for generation of high-temperature hydrogen for direct reduction of iron ore. The research is currently under review. Similar studies have been conducted on the use of green hydrogen for producing green ammonia . Application of hydrogen in different industrial sectors is depicted in Figure 2.
Figure 2 Hydrogen application in different EII’s
By ESR Abhinav Bhaskar – email: email@example.com
The complex value chains and highly competitive markets in which EII’s operate, makes it difficult for them to invest in innovative technologies. The economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic would require the injection of public funds into these ailing industries. Public funding for the introduction of innovative production technologies in the production processes of EII’s could provide countries with a strategic advantage and act as a tool to revive the economy. The EU hydrogen strategy  and the German national hydrogen strategy  have identified the use of green hydrogen in the heavy industries like steel, ammonia, petrochemicals etc. as an important step towards the development of a hydrogen economy in the EU. Through our research, we would like to ascertain the impact of the use of hydrogen in the industries on the overall energy system. We would focus on the following questions:
- Is it technically and economically feasible to switch to green hydrogen-based production in select industrial processes i.e. steel making, ammonia and methanol production? What will be the impact on the profitability of the product?
- How much green hydrogen will be required for the select industrial process? Which green hydrogen production technology (alkaline, polymer electrolyte membrane, solid oxide electrolyser) is optimal for the process in terms of cost and efficiency?
- How much electricity will be required if EII’s in the Nordic region switch to green hydrogen?
- Under what scenarios will it be feasible to switch to green hydrogen? Can an increase in carbon-tax on EII’s make them switch to green hydrogen? What will be the impact of interest rates on the profitability of the new production units?
- Will it be more profitable to install captive production units or to purchase green hydrogen from centralized production units? At what production levels of green hydrogen, will captive production become more favourable?
 Hybrit, “Hybrit project – Pilot projects,” Project website. http://www.hybritdevelopment.com/articles/three-hybrit-pilot-projects (accessed Sep. 06, 2019).
 V. Vogl, M. Åhman, and L. J. Nilsson, “Assessment of hydrogen direct reduction for fossil-free steelmaking,” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 203, pp. 736–745, Dec. 2018, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.08.279.
 M. Åhman et al., “Hydrogen steelmaking for a low-carbon economy: A joint LU-SEI working paper for the HYBRIT project,” Stockholm, 1, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.sei.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/hydrogen-steelmaking-for-a-low-carbon-economy.pdf.
 A. Bhaskar, M. Assadi, and H. N. H. N. Somehsaraei, “Decarbonization of the iron and steel industry with direct reduction of iron ore with green hydrogen,” Energies, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 1–23, 2020, doi: 10.3390/en13030758.
 J. Armijo and C. Philibert, “Flexible production of green hydrogen and ammonia from variable solar and wind energy. Case study of Chile and Argentina,” ResearchGate, no. May, 2019, doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.36547.66081.
 E. Commission, “A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe,” Brussels, 2020.
 Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, “National Hydrogen Strategy,” Berlin, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://consult.industry.gov.au/national-hydrogen-strategy-taskforce/national-hydrogen-strategy-request-for-input/.
If you are interested in the specifics of the 15 research projects, you can find summaries and video explanations from the researchers here.
Our project is supported by 23 industry partner institutions.
More about the Blogger of the month