USA’s decision to get out of the Paris Agreement started new discussions about how the industry, especially the manufacturing one, is affecting the environment. Of course, the United States is a very important player in almost every industry, so refusing to reduce greenhouse emissions put more pressure to keep the air clean on the countries who acknowledge that we need to change our way of doing things.
At the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the main focus was the need to rapidly decarbonize in order to try to delay the inevitable. Australia is taking some measures to reduce greenhouse emissions but it is just starting.
Unfortunately, Australia didn’t create a plan which would stimulate businesses and innovators to cut down their greenhouse emissions. In the USA business that use green energy or reduce gas emissions get tax credits and deductions, which are a great stimulant. So there is a long way for Australia to create the economy that can face global warming. One way to change things in a more environmentally friendly way is to look at this problem, not as a challenge but as an opportunity.
Therefore, let’s look at each sector and see what it would look like if would make the shift for zero emissions within a decade and what would that industry have to gain. A great analysis on this topic was made by Beyond Zero Emissions. Their last report, Electrifying Industry talks about the manufacturing sector, the most versatile one in a mature economy.
Every year Australia burns fossil fuel during the manufacturing process for steel, glass, plastic, paper and other commodities we enjoy every day. This process produces 42 million tons of carbon dioxide, the same amount as a car fleet. Yet, because these emissions come from the heat generated by the manufacturing process are often ignored.
The report Beyond Zero Emissions shows that if the manufacturing industry switches to renewable energy, the gas emissions will decrease by 8 percent and the whole sector would revive. Replacing natural gas with electricity will halve the energy required in the production process. The good news is that electricity can come from a renewable source, which is a long term gain. Heat pumps are an alternative for the inefficient centralized gas boilers you find in almost every factory. They have an efficiency of 300% to 700%, seeing that they produce more thermal energy they use in electrical energy. Electrical induction is also an alternative for gas-fired furnaces, as the technology is 50% more efficient, at least when it comes to melting a ton of aluminum.
The cost of switching to an efficient electrified process can be amortized in two years. But this evaluation might soon change as the cost of green energy is falling and the costs of gas are rising. Therefore, switching to energy is not only an investment in the future of the planet but it is also a smart investment which will cut costs in the long term. But reducing costs is not the only advantage of going electric. Speeding production is also an improvement that comes with new technology.
Making construction materials half as fast
Beyond Zero Emissions shows that you can reduce the production time when making bricks by using microwaves. And instead of buying a new factory when you want to expand, you can simply retrofit the microwave emitters.
With electrical energy you change the way some materials are made. For example, it has been demonstrated that you can make steel with hydrogen at a commercial-scale. Traditional steel making, using coal is responsible for 6% of global emissions.
Making steel with zero emissions
Australia is one of the market leading leaders of making hydrogen using electrolysis. With its resources of iron ore and renewable energy, Australia has the capacity to become the biggest exporter of zero-emissions steel. Electrical heating could be the motor behind the much anticipated fourth industrial revolution. It is safe, precise and easier to control, qualities that the manufacturing industry will embrace. But in order to create products with zero emissions, the electricity used in the process must be renewable.
The good news is that manufacturers don’t have to wait for technology’s development, they can switch renewable energy right away. Right now, many businesses are saving money by signing power purchase agreements for renewable energy. Others, like Liberty One-Steel, opt for building their own renewable power stations.
Renewable Energy Superpower 2015 report shows that Australia can generate more energy from solar plants and wind than from all the country’s fossil fuels. Furthermore, Australia has an advantage to other countries as it has an abundance of sun, wind and available land. So it is easier to create renewable energy here than in other places. But if the country doesn’t take advantage of its natural resources, risks being left behind in the game of zero emissions manufacturing.
Other countries are changing faster
Of course, other countries are also making efforts to limit greenhouse emission and to create zero emissions industries.
Japan and some countries in Europe already installed hundreds of heat pumps. Australia only has some. Also, the Swedish government is founding a A$80 million investment for hydrogen-based steel and Australia only acknowledges the technology.
The electricity sector shouldn’t be only one expected to make changes in order to fit into the new zero-carbon era. Australian governments must create legislation and the infrastructure in order to stimulate industries to cut down their emissions and to adopt new zero emissions strategies.
Climate change is not a costly burden but a stimulant for finding new ways to prosper before it is too late.