Fuel sources used for industrial heating are front and center for the U.S. government as it examines the emissions factor per unit of coal and natural gas compared to the emissions factor of the electricity grid. Let’s examine some of the numbers.

Thirty-seven. This is the number of times the Department of Energy (DOE) mentions the phrase “process heating” in its Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap, which was pubished on Sept. 7, 2022. One. That is the number of mentions the phrase “process cooling” receives in the same 241-page document. The sole reference to process cooling came in the form of a “key message” that it largely uses electrical energy within the chemical industry.

The DOE’s Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap focuses on five manufacturing industries: chemical, petroleum refining, iron and steel, food and beverage and cement. However, the roadmap seeks to address process-heating efficiency and emissions across all subsectors, stating that it accounts for 51% of energy use onsite at U.S. manufacturing facilities in 2018 by end use with process cooling reaching 3%. The roadmap’s recommendations include addressing process heating, investing in multiple process strategies, advancing early state R&D, decarbonizing electricity sources, integrating solutions and scaling through demonstrations.


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The Biden Administration set goals of carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Both are goals that directly affect industrial heating. Using data often cited by the DOE, the roadmap says that the industrial sector accounted for 33% of primary energy use in the U.S. in 2020 and 30% of the energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The roadmap identifies four key “pillars” of industrial decarbonization: energy efficiency; industrial electrification; low-carbon fuels, feedstocks and energy sources (LCFFES); and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

The federal government clearly believes that proportion of energy used for industrial heating offers a significant energy-reduction opportunity, particularly through new and emerging technologies that promote energy-efficient systems.

The roadmap devotes Section to process heat electrification, stating that it “represents a major opportunity for decarbonization.” The DOE believes that electrified technologies such as induction, radiative heating and advanced heat pumps are viable on the lower end of the medium-temperature range, but it also wants to see electrification for the iron, steel and cement industries. Hydrogen receives its own subsection, but electrification is the clear focus.

The DOE cited stakeholder meetings and technical literature highlighting R&D solutions, including low- and no-carbon process-heating solutions and overcoming scaling issues for electric technologies. Government officials also would like to see included among the process-heating options nuclear heat and electricity, clean electricity, hydrogen and renewable thermal. The roadmap pays particular focus on process heating in the steel in-dustry, where it accounts for 63% of total energy use, with process cooling calculated at 1%.   

To encourage industry, the DOE announced a $104 million funding opportunity to ad-vance industrial decarbonization technologies. In addition, the Advanced Research Pro-jects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) includes industrial process-heating decarbonization within its scope of support topic areas. The Department’s Advanced Manufacturing Of-fice in recent years began funding research that could enable electrified process heating, as has the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

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The work of the Solar Energy Technologies Office on industrial decarbonization is focused on “solar thermal industrial process heat for processes such as desalination, enhanced oil recovery, agriculture and food processing, petroleum refining, chemicals manufacturing, and mining and metals processing.”

What does this all mean for manufacturers and distributors? This is not the first time the federal government has big plans for industry. The Biden administration is taking a whole-of-government approach to climate change, and industrial decarbonization is a central focus despite most consumers concentrating on tailpipe emissions. Currently, federal officials are looking to entice industry to cooperate, offering funding and holding stakeholder meetings.

Sources here in Washington, D.C. are wondering if the federal government is overly ambitious, especially in the context of replacing natural gas for many industrial heating applications. Another area of skepticism is how much further the Biden administration can go with funding their decarbonization investments and financial support for certain projects following the midterm elections, where they face a divided Washington with Republicans now their negotiating partners.

GOP members in the House of Representatives are already calling for investigations into DOE support for the Biden administration’s climate change initiatives. Federal loans and grants will receive particular scrutiny in 2023 from congressional Republicans. The political outcomes are by no means the end of government interest in decarbonization of industry, but few expect two more years of smooth sailing.

In the coming year, experts in Washington, D.C. do expect regulators to continue examining ways to electrify certain industries, increase efficiency and reduce thermal waste. Thus far, the DOE is leading the way for the Biden administration, encouraging industry to develop new technologies. That is where we are in this process – government officials working to push economically and technologically feasible new processes and sources to achieve their decarbonization goals.

This is what we call the “carrot approach,” where the DOE provides financial and other incentives to industry. The “stick approach” is often not too far behind, especially as the EPA engages and transitions from federal dollars to federal fines. While punitive action for the decarbonization of these five industrial sectors is likely a ways off, businesses should take note of the increased interest from Washington.

There are many lists in this town – often lists industry should seek to avoid. In this case, process heating and industrial decarbonization are an area of focus and, for now, being offered incentives and a partner in government. That may not last, so now might be the time to review the Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap to see what government has in store for your business.

To learn more about the government’s efforts or to read the roadmap, visit https://www.energy.gov/eere/doe-industrial-decarbonization-roadmap.