Europe’s carbon intensive industries are bound to fail to meet emission reduction targets unless innovative technological solutions for capture and storage of CO2 are promptly introduced, a study has found.
In addition to the frequently discussed transport and electricity generation sectors, a team of researchers from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology analysed some of the most polluting industries including oil refining and production of steel and cement.
“There is a lack of strategy from political actors about how emissions from these industries should be reduced, even though these industries are responsible for a tenth of emissions of carbon dioxide in Europe and nearly 20 per cent in Sweden,” said Chalmers researcher Johan Rootzén. “At the same time Sweden and the EU have a target in which emissions should be almost zero by 2050.”
Rootzén and his team concluded that the current approach focusing on energy efficiency and switching to fossil-free fuels may work in some sectors but not in others. For example in steel and cement production, such measures could only help eliminate a fraction of the existing CO2 emissions. The team concluded that investment into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies is therefore urgently needed to meet the targets.
“The clock is ticking”, said Rootzén. “Plants within heavy industry have very long life-spans, so implementation of new technology and new solutions takes a long time. There are only a few investment cycles left to year 2050. If the EU is serious about reducing emissions by 80-90 per cent by 2050, then the issue of how to finance the development and implementation of innovative process technology must be brought to the table now.”
The study suggested that although major investment into research, development and primary production will be needed, the end-users – those buying new cars or houses - will experience only a minor increase in price of the final product.
“There are indeed question marks concerning CCS and large investments are required in CCS as well as in other measures,” said Professor Filip Johnsson. “Yet, if society decides not to try then we limit the room for manoeuvring in the future. Our research suggests that without a shift in technology then refineries, steel and cement industries alone are going to be the source of up to a quarter of the emissions in 2050.”
The researchers have urged Swedish and European legislators to take a decision that would enable wide-spread deployment of CCS technologies in energy intensive industries.
“This is one of the major critical issues we must deal with. The choice of path that we make in Sweden and Europe can, of course, only affect the global development so much,” said Rootzén. “But we, who have to a large extent built up our industries and economies on coal, oil, steel and cement have, in my opinion, a responsibility to lead the way and develop measures which can show the rest of the world that it is possible to achieve ambitious emission reduction targets.”