Saturday Dec 03, 2022

Climate and industrial innovation: Thermal energy solutions needed – The Hill


Republican and Democratic policymakers have long supported polices to generate electricity with clean energy and to power our cars and trucks with alternative fuels, including electricity. Lawmakers prioritized these sectors for good reason; they are the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and investing in them stimulates our economy and creates the jobs of the future. But now it’s time for Congress to take on the long-overlooked and third largest source of energy-related GHG emissions: the heat needed for running industrial processes. Tackling these emissions is essential to effective action on climate change and presents tremendous economic opportunities for the United States.

Manufacturing processes depend on heat for almost everything — for ovens that forge steel and kilns that fire ceramics, for making chemicals that go into the products we use every day, for processing foods and beverages, and for drying paper goods, paints and other products. These are just a few of the thousands of ways U.S. industries use heat as an essential part of their operations. This heat, called thermal energy, accounts for over 12 percent of U.S. emissions, generating even more emissions than the entire U.S. agricultural sector.

Many large U.S. companies have set ambitious climate and clean energy goals and have begun to tackle their thermal emissions, but to meet these goals they need Congress to pass robust federal policies that promote innovation, reward early adoption and facilitate scaling up clean energy solutions in the marketplace.

Addressing thermal energy carbon pollution will unlock many economic and environmental opportunities. It will help the U.S. increase energy independence, counteract energy-driven price inflation and decrease reliance on autocrats who control large global energy supplies. It will also unlock development of the next generation of energy supplies and technologies, drive investment in new and existing industries and create jobs and strengthen communities across the country. And last but certainly not least, it will help global U.S. companies to compete economically while reducing their carbon footprint.

Conversely, if we fail to address these emissions, we will have no viable pathway to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the critical threshold that science tells us we can’t breach if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

As Congress considers how best to support U.S. industry, there are several promising alternatives to fossil fuels waiting in the wings. One is capturing solar energy to heat industrial fluids or create steam at an industrial scale. Another is using biogas — captured from landfills or converted from animal and food waste — to replace conventional natural gas. Green hydrogen, which eliminates emissions by using renewable energy to create clean burning hydrogen, can also substitute for conventional natural gas and other transportation fuels. Electrifying industrial processes, with renewable electricity, presents many opportunities. And heat pumps are often a simple cost-effective addition to any industrial system that can capture and reuse waste heat.

These examples are just the beginning of a nascent industry. With further innovation, we can unlock the full potential of renewable thermal energy. So, what is standing in the way of renewable thermal uptake?

One barrier is technology. Research and development of many of these promising renewable thermal energy technologies is still in its early days. And even established technologies, like hydrogen, often remain commercially unavailable or too costly compared to existing fossil fuel options like natural gas.

The lack of one-size-fits-all solutions makes scalability a challenge. Industrial processes and sectors vary greatly in their needs, …….


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