Skip to content

☁️ "Concrete, Steel & Plastics: Paths to a Greener Industrial Sector"

Climate Now

Photo by Ant Rozetsky / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: James Lawler
Guest: Dr. Rebecca Dell | Program Director, Industry | ClimateWorks Foundation
Category: ☁️ Carbon Reduction | Green Industry

Subscribe now

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[4:30] “The industrial sector […] covers manufacturing, construction, mining, waste processing, [etc.]. There are a lot of different activities and whole sectors of the economy that are involved in making stuff or moving stuff around, but there's actually a very short list of activities that are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions. And those are making the basic materials that we make other things out of things like steel, cement, concrete, fertilizer, plastic. […] About a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are directly emitted by the industrial sector. Two thirds of that come from the industries I just listed.

[5:56] “If you look at the total lifecycle emissions of the petrochemical industry, we're talking about more than 3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per year from that sector. To give […] a frame of comparison, the total greenhouse gas emissions from the entire US economy are like 5.5 billion tons. […] It's half of the emissions of the entire US economy for this one sector. Most of those emissions are in the form of CO2, but also, there's a large amount of emissions that come out as methane and as other non CO2 greenhouse gasses. Of that more than 3 billion tonnes, we're talking about probably 2/3 of it, so about 2 billion tonnes come in the production of the chemicals. And then 1/3 comes in the use or disposal of the chemicals.”

[14:27] “While in the chemical industry, there's lots of interesting things happening, I don't think anybody has sort of a clear line of sight to what a climate safe chemical industry is going to look like. There's a lot of open questions there.”

[14:44] “I find it helpful […] to use the framework of clean feedstocks and clean energy. So when we talk about clean feedstocks, we talk about recycling […]. Other options include things like getting your carbon from biomass […] There are some interesting startup companies that are trying to commercialize CO2 to chemicals. But my rough back of the envelope calculation is that if the whole chemical industry today used CO2 and electricity to get its carbon, instead of what it's currently doing, the amount of electricity that would be required would be basically 50% of all the electricity that we have on Earth.”

[16:15] “On the clean energy side, we can always use clean electricity […]. And then I think we should also take really seriously options to be more material efficient. Everybody knows that you should be energy efficient, […] but I think we're still as a society and at a very early stage of our conversation about material efficiency. Can we deliver the same products and services, the same level of comfort to people, but just use fewer materials to do it?

[19:11] “Total global concrete consumption is somewhere between 30 and 35 billion tonnes per year, which is just an insane number. And basically what that corresponds to is about 10,000 pounds of concrete per human per year […] And the greenhouse gasses emissions are really driven by the cement. So it's not that the cement is so greenhouse gas intensive itself, but it's just that we make billions of tons of it. […] The cement industry [is responsible for about] 4 billion tons [of CO2 emissions per year].”

[30:29] “Every steel mill on Earth makes more CO2 than steel. In terms of the total mass of its products, it's a CO2 facility that also makes steel. […] When we make aluminum, that number is not 2 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel, it's 18 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of aluminum, but we use a lot less aluminum. And so the total global emissions of the aluminum industry are very small compared to the total global emissions of the steel industry.”

[35:53] “I think, five years from now, we are going to have hydrogen steel mills that are producing commercial quantities of hydrogen reduced steel, and people are going to be out there making them into cars and products and everything. […] However, it requires more energy than the electrolysis […] route. […] The steel industry globally uses like 5% of all energy that's consumed by humans on Earth. So if we can get the electrolysis route working soon, that's going to be even more attractive, because you can save so much money on your energy. So I think it's probably going to end up being a combination of those two, supported by better, higher quality recycling with more material efficiency.”

Rating: ☁️☁️☁️☁️

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 37 min | 🗓️ 05/02/2022
✅ Time saved: 35 min

Subscribe now