IEA (2020), Energy Technology Perspectives 2020, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/energy-technology-perspectives-2020, License: CC BY 4.0
The materials produced by industry play a critical role in our daily lives. They include steel for vehicles, petrochemicals for gloves and masks used in hospitals, cement for buildings we live and work in, among many other uses.
Three heavy industries – chemicals, steel and cement – account for over half of industrial energy use and around 70% of direct CO2 emissions from industry. In the Sustainable Development Scenario, heavy industry emissions fall 90% by 2070, with the remaining 600 MtCO2 offset by carbon removal technologies.
Various factors make it difficult to reach zero emissions in heavy industries. Today, most technologies that drastically reduce emissions are at an early stage of development. This includes technologies for providing large amounts of high-temperature heat, which in many cases cannot be provided by electricity using commercial technologies, and for reducing process emissions from chemical reactions inherent to current industrial feedstocks.
Industry also requires expensive and long-lived equipment – blast furnaces and cement kilns typically operate for around 40 years – and this slows deployment of low‑emission technologies. Moreover, many industrial materials are highly price-sensitive due to being traded in highly competitive global markets.
Technology performance improvements and material efficiency together contribute the most to emissions reductions in heavy industry in the near term. Adopting the best available technologies yields gains in technology performance, while improving manufacturing yields, light-weighting and other material efficiency measures reduce growth in demand for materials.
The buildings construction sector, which accounts for around 50% of demand for cement and 30% for steel, plays a key role in reduced material demand through buildings lifetime extensions and new building designs.
In the long term, low-CO2 processes that are not commercially available today account for around two-thirds of the total output of the three heavy industry sectors in the Sustainable Development Scenario. Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) and electrolytic hydrogen play leading roles, with an average of about 75 plants incorporating CCUS and 20 plants incorporating low-carbon hydrogen being added each year from 2030.
Despite these extensive changes, the impact on end-use consumers is expected to be small – the cost increase for steel would raise the price of a car by only about 0.2% and that for cement would raise the price of a house by only about 0.6%.