Industrial sector greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have steadily increased since the industrial revolution and nearly tripled over the last three decades. U.S. industries account for 30% of national GHG emissions, while the industrial sector globally accounts for 40% of all GHG emissions (both including industrial electricity use). Decarbonizing the industrial sector is critical for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Several key solutions can be applied across the sector to reduce industrial emissions: increasing energy efficiency, switching to clean energy sources, and installing technologies like carbon capture and storage. However, large-scale application of these solutions is costly and comes with some uncertainties that require safeguards. WRI researches the opportunities and challenges of industrial innovation and offers practical steps that U.S. policymakers and industrial leaders can take to accelerate action.

A graphic showing the priority solutions to decarbonize the industry sector.

Analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) affirms that absolute emissions reductions from industry requires a variety of strategies – including carbon capture and storage – in parallel with energy efficiency. And the U.S. Long-Term Strategy concludes that non-carbon fuels, energy efficiency and electrification can reduce overall industrial sector CO2 emissions by 69-95% by 2050.

Where to start industrial innovation?

In the U.S., the largest emitting industrial sectors include chemicals, refining, cement and steel. Transforming these industrial sectors can yield deep emissions reductions and help scale up clean technologies that can be utilized in other industrial sectors.

A one-size-fits-all solution will not work in this diverse sector due to the variations in process and products. Companies will need to pursue a menu of options to begin cutting emissions in this decade to help the U.S. achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The path toward industrial decarbonization by midcentury requires comprehensive strategies and a robust portfolio of federal and state policies to support innovation, investment and deployment.

Key policy recommendations to drive decarbonization include:

  • Energy Efficiency: In addition to reducing emissions, energy efficiency provides a range of other benefits including cost savings, diminished risks and increased competitiveness.
  • Electrification: Electricity from renewable sources can replace fossil fuels to power low- and medium-temperature heat industrial processes.
  • Procurement: Procurement policies can help accelerate market transformation by incentivizing and increasing the deployment of lower-carbon technologies.
  • Carbon Management: A suite of technologies and infrastructure aimed at storage, containment and capture of carbon dioxide.
  • Hydrogen: Clean hydrogen can serve as a low- and zero-carbon fuel that can replace fossil fuels to achieve high-temperature heat that industrial processes require.
  • Innovative Approaches: Innovation competitions, competitive grantmaking, RDD&D for technologies and state task forces can increase collaboration among industrial facilities and build markets.

Cover image credit: Skitterphoto / Pixabay