The resilience of coal-based industries in the transition to net zero (ICSC-CIAB)
Many countries, particularly in Europe, have committed to phase out coal, as part of efforts to achieve net zero emissions (NZE). However, this will be very difficult, if not impossible for heavy industries to achieve in a cost-effective and resilient manner, whilst producing the necessary steel, cement, aluminium and chemicals to provide the future NZE infrastructure.
Consequently, fossil fuels including coal, fitted with carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS), will continue to play a role as industry decarbonises and moves towards NZE. Although coal use will inevitably reduce, perhaps by as much as 80% from the current 5 Gt/y, 0.6–1.4 Gt/y it is still forecast to be used in 2050, largely in heavy industry.
Heavy industries can be NZE compliant by 2050. However, the technologies that are likely to be relied upon to mitigate their emissions are largely immature. Fortunately, in the short to medium term, technologies that are already mature or in the early adoption phase can play an important role, including material efficiency gains, switching to bioenergy, and the electrification of low and medium temperature heat as well as the significant low-carbon electricity required for aluminium smelting. In the longer term, fundamental technology shifts are needed, where innovative technologies incorporating CCUS and hydrogen will be key for heavy industry decarbonisation. In order to ensure that these technologies are available for deployment at least cost, development work needs to be caried out.
For heavy industries to decarbonise in a cost effective and resilient way, coal fitted with CCUS will be a key technology for all of the heavy industries assessed, particularly cement.