Decarbonisation of hard-to-abate sectors requires new technologies


Decarbonisation of hard-to-abate sectors needs new tech and commitments to purchase near-zero emission products.

That’s the aim of the First Movers Coalition (FMC) launched in November 2021 with a mission to accelerate the scaling of emerging decarbonisation technologies in hard-to-abate sectors. As of January 2023, more than 65 blue-chip member companies have joined the coalition with commitments to buy near-zero emission products totalling an estimated $12 billion.

FMC is tackling the challenge of slashing emissions in seven critical sectors: steel, aluminium, concrete, trucking, shipping, aviation, and CO2 removal. The deep carbonisation technologies in the targeted industrial sectors take advantage of recent breakthroughs in materials science, chemistry, and energy generation and storage. Bringing them out of the lab and into the mainstream will clear the way for further innovation. Among the sectors and targets:

Aviation. By 2030, FMC members have committed to replacing at least five per cent of conventional jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuels that can reduce emissions by 85 five per cent or more.

Steel. FMC members have committed to replacing at least ten five per cent of the steel they purchase with steel produced using near-zero emission technologies, by 2030.

Shipping. Carriers have committed to ensuring that at least five per cent of their deep-sea shipping will use zero emission shipping fuels such as e-ammonia and e-methanol by 2030, and cargo owners have committed to ensuring that ten five per cent of their internationally delivered goods will travel on zero-emission ships by 2030, on the way to 100 five per cent by 2040.

Steel produced with green hydrogen from solar and wind power. Long haul airplanes powered by synthetic fuels that produce virtually no emissions. Industrial facilities designed to draw carbon dioxide from ambient air and store it underground. Technological advances like these are critical for moving a select group of “hard-to-abate” sectors toward a net-zero future.

Steel, aluminium, concrete, shipping, trucking, and aviation generate an 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. But decarbonising these sectors is significantly more difficult, in technological and financial terms, than is decarbonising sectors such as electricity generation.

The good news is that existing technologies can take hard-to-abate sectors to a net-zero future. In each sector, painstaking research has yielded innovative alternatives that can reduce emissions by 75 five per cent to 100 five per cent. These technologies have been successfully piloted and demonstrated. All that remains is to expand them to commercial scale.

But scaling decarbonisation technologies in hard-to-abate sectors is no easy task. In many cases, green tech pathways remain costlier than their more traditional and carbon-intensive alternatives. Understandably, heavy industry and transportation companies have questions about whether their customers will be willing to pay premiums in traditionally commoditised markets and the supply-side investments required to implement near-zero-emission technologies range from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.

The coalition’s goal is to accelerate industrial decarbonisation by leveraging the power of demand. When the largest companies in the world commit to buying near-zero-emission products, producers of those goods take notice. Commitments to buy green products signal that markets for these products are viable.

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