Clean Heat Pathways for Industrial Decarbonization

Most heat energy industry uses today comes from fossil fuel combustion, accounting for about 10 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. In the United States, the industries using the most heat include petroleum refining, paper, chemicals, cement, and steel. Unless industries change course, U.S. industrial emissions are expected to rise significantly by mid-century. Identifying and deploying clean heat solutions will be essential. 

This brief first provides an overview of the current status of industrial heat in a range of sectors. It then lays out the key criteria for evaluating or characterizing clean heat technologies and describes some of the challenges and opportunities presented by clean heat technology options. The brief concludes with recommendations for a suite of policies that can provide a pathway to reducing emissions from industrial heat.

Necessary policies: 

Innovation: additional investment in research, development, and demonstration of clean heat technologies (particularly ones that could be used in the highest-emitting sectors), as well as expanded pilot programs and improved access for businesses to the technical expertise in the national labs 

Deployment: tax incentives and technical assistance to overcome cost-competitiveness challenges and perceived risks in deploying less established technologies 

Carbon pricing: a price signal to the market that would make clean heat technologies more cost-competitive, while giving industries the flexibility and time to find opportunities to innovate 

Standards and regulations: measures to drive or require the industrial sector to produce a certain amount of its heat from clean energy sources 

Competitiveness: measures, such as border carbon adjustments, to protect the global competitiveness of American industries adopting clean heat technologies