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A clean, green, industrial machine

The landscape for climate and energy innovation in the United States changed dramatically with last year’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and its hundreds of billions in climate and energy incentives. A year later, with at least 15 billion-dollar climate and weather disasters in the books through July, we’re reminded why we need to accelerate climate progress. While the IRA is expected to deliver considerably large emission reductions in power and transportation, additional enabling policies are needed to drive innovation and speed decarbonization in the U.S. industrial sector.

Recent modeling by the Rhodium Group projects the IRA — along with other policies in place as of June 2023 — puts the United States on a path to reduce emissions 29 to 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and by 32 to 51 percent below 2005 levels in 2035. While the Inflation Reduction Act represents a historic opportunity to accelerate broader decarbonization of the U.S. economy, analysis from Princeton University’s REPEAT Project finds only 13 percent of the IRA’s total potential emission reductions come from industrial sectors, highlighting the critical need for further action to decarbonize industry.

A broad group of committed stakeholders is exploring areas where innovation and policy can work together to reduce emissions in steel, chemical, cement, and asphalt production. C2ES’s Brad Townsend led a panel on these breakthrough technologies in July at “America’s Next Revolution: Clean Industrial,” a summit hosted by ClearPath and Clean Air Task Force.

The discussion spotlighted some of many innovations featured at the summit, including Sublime System’s and Brimstone’s processes to decarbonize cement, as well as Lanza Tech’s carbon-recycling and fuel-producing bacteria. Across the day, project developers, innovators, and policymakers found some agreement in calling for legislators to enact metrics that enhance technological performance, market incentives that support RDD&D, and policies that foster durable industrial innovation and decarbonization solutions.

Addressing heat emissions, which make up almost half of total industrial sector emissions, underscores the importance of coalitions like Renewable Thermal Collaborative (RTC). C2ES co-convenes this global coalition for companies, institutions, and governments, committed to scaling up renewable heating and cooling. An RTC briefing on Capitol Hill in July gave policymakers a look at the need for, challenges of, and opportunities to decarbonize industrial heat. The speakers shared findings from The Renewable Thermal Vision report, which examines six priority U.S. industrial sectors to identify pathways to decarbonizing each industry.

The industrial decarbonization discussion continues at the RTC Summit, October 19-20. Large thermal energy buyers, renewable thermal technology developers and suppliers, financiers and investors, government officials, and other stakeholders from across the country and the world will be at the premier event dedicated to renewable heating and cooling.

The challenge of reducing industrial emissions is that they arise not only from heat and power, but also products and processes. In 2021, industry accounted for 23 percent, or almost one quarter, of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is projected to become the largest-emitting sector by the early 2030s. New innovations could help these technologies turn a corner — if enabled by effective policy.

As the conversation about decarbonizing U.S. industry grows, industrial companies, innovators, policymakers, and civil society are sounding a drumbeat as they mobilize to take on the next challenges, with additional policies and actions proving to be vital in this effort. As a nation of leaders, the United States has an opportunity to lead the world into a clean industrial future — but only if we act quickly.