How to De-Carbonize Methane, Cement, & Industry

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Published on 14 Dec 2020, 13:00
How to cut emissions from the Industrial, Methane "Natural Gas," and Cement manufacturing sectors. Watch the full episode:

Robbie Orvis:
Designing Climate Solutions:

[Plank] Industrial processes - as I pointed out in my video on the top 20 emitters -making things like chemicals, materials, steel, and especially cement, will be one of the hardest areas of the global economy to decarbonize. I was struck by the figure that up to 50 percent of the energy used in industry is lost as heat.
[Orvis] Waste heat recovery is broadly the category referred to to try and capture that energy. But in industry there's generally energy that's used to create heat - often steam - for industrial processes, and then energy that's used to create electricity.
China has one of the most successful programs in the world to address energy and emissions in industry. It's called the Top Ten Thousand Program and it's really a bucket of several different policies ranging from things like worker training, to energy audits and energy reporting. It's amazing when you require people to report how much energy they're using and where it's coming from, you help industries identify processes where they're using much more than they should.
[Plank] So as the United States has turned to natural gas instead of coal, methane leaks are a huge problem. How are policymakers tackling this specific challenge?
[Orvis] There are different standards in different states. The Obama administration had a set of natural gas standards that have since been scrapped by the Trump administration. But monitoring is a big part of the issue. There's lots of miles of pipeline and it's challenging, and can be expensive, for natural gas operators to monitor all of that. But without monitoring, we don't really - it's very hard - to know the leakage rate and where the leakage is occurring if we don't have a better understanding of the system, and being able to identify those leaks. So at a minimum we need better monitoring of the pipeline system, and that covers the entire system all the way from where the gas is extracted, down to where it goes into people's homes.
[Plank] Cement is a massive emitter. The whole process is very emission, energy intensive. Are there policies that have achieved decarbonizing cement even a little bit? I think a little bit would go a long way given how much it's used.
[Orvis] A big one is something called cement clinker substitution, which basically means--the cement process involves breaking down some inputs into material that can then be used as cement. But you can replace some of that from other sources such as ash or gypsum, not that we want to promote the use of coal, but coal ash is often used as an input to cement manufacturing as a substitute. So there are a fair amount of substitute materials that you can use. Now you can't fully replace what's in cement, and there are trade-offs between substituting in those materials and other properties of cement, but provided it meets certain criteria, you can increase the share of cement that's coming from those materials and therefore avoid the process - the chemical process - by which you have to make the clinker. I think some industries are looking at alternatives for the energy used to create the cement. So exploring whether or not they can use indirect heat from electricity would be a big one, reducing the demand for cement actually is another big one. So buildings in the US last 50, 80, 100 years. Buildings on average in China last 20 years. And so every 20 years that building has to be replaced with new cement. And that's from a mixture of building codes, sometimes the quality of the materials - the steel or the cement - used is not high quality, and that causes the building to kind of crumble. In the long run cement is actually a good industry to target for carbon capture because that process of turning the inputs into clinker that's used for cement, that actually produces CO2 as a pretty pure by-product and so if you can just capture that in storage, you don't have to deal as much with separating it, which is one of the big costs of carbon capture. My hope is that in the long run that might be a good - cement might be a good - candidate for carbon capture. There's an emerging group of people who think that something called cross-laminated timber, which is a new way of reforming wood products that makes them have almost the same strength as cement, that that's a hopeful potential avenue, but it's it's still emerging and it's not clear yet how large of the market for buildings can be met by that.