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How Energy-Intensive Industries Can Increase Sustainability Without Increasing Costs

How Energy-Intensive Industries Can Increase Sustainability Without Increasing Costs

While there are many hurdles for any industry reaching net zero emissions by 2050, as put forth by the Paris Climate Agreement, energy-intensive industries (EII's) have the ultimate uphill battle.

EII's are often producers of basic materials such as steel, petrochemicals, aluminum, cement, and fertilizers. Collectively, these heavy industry emitters currently make up around 22% of global emissions. Along with the transportation sector, these industries are referred to as “harder-to-abate”.

Some of the unique challenges they face include the following:

  • Having long-lived capital assets, meaning switching to any new alternative technology can require massive upfront capital costs. 
  • With high-temperature heat requirements in their processes, these companies need huge amounts of fuel. 
  • Process emissions are hard or impossible to avoid in many cases. For example, look at cement factories. CO2 is a byproduct made not from fossil fuel consumption but from the creation of the active ingredient in cement. 
  • Materials produced by heavy industries are globally traded and in high demand. This sets up trade considerations that, in most cases today, make the status quo more affordable than sustainable alternatives. 

So, if you are in a harder-to-abate industry, how can you increase sustainability in the face of these challenges? 

All while staying profitable?  

Well, there are two main areas to focus on. You must increase energy efficiency and adopt the 4 tenants of a circular carbon economy: Reduce, reuse, recycle, and remove. 

Research points to the following to achieve just that.

Get an accurate benchmark on your energy efficiency through an energy audit

If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved. Simple as that. 

Creating a sustainability plan comes with a hefty list of jobs to be done while considering your business’ unique variables and factors. You need to identify industry drivers of sustainability, find the right technologies to aid your sustainability efforts; plan, establish and enforce policies business-wide, etc... 

But an important piece for any business is auditing and benchmarking your energy usage across your company both internally — between departments, for example — and externally. 

From there, you can set the appropriate objectives, goals, and KPI’s. See Green Business Bureau’s 10 part action guide for executives on creating a successful sustainability plan:

Accuracy is important in any audit. 

With harder-to-abate industry companies, there is typically a large amount of equipment to track, sophisticated technology in use, and an increasing demand for mobile devices - all of which can cause a complex reporting equation. So, visibility of all device and equipment usage is necessary. 

This kind of visibility can often be found through your company’s utility bills. And some complex invoice management companies and softwares can ensure that full level of visibility, such as with Cannon Group’s Utility Bill Management and ESG Reporting capabilities (ESG being Environmental, Social and Governance). 

With intelligent invoice management such as that, energy usage can be reported directly along with a utility or device bill. Many companies even go one step further and automate the ESG reporting process.

Which brings us to the next area to focus on: Automation.

Automation (Smart Manufacturing) Lowers Costs and Increases Energy Efficiency

The U.S. Department of Energy's Smart Manufacturing Institute concluded that automation, unsurprisingly, reduces energy consumption. Some of the key verticals studied included paper, iron & steel, and petroleum refining. 

The two major pieces in this automation equation are Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Internet of Things technology (IoT).

RPA blurs the lines between digital and physical more than ever before. 

Driving industry 4.0, RPA helps machines, people, CRMs, software, and more communicate with one another by automating the storage and processing of data. While RPA has traditionally been associated with increasing financial savings through efficiency, more and more, clean energy executives are looking to it specifically for its sustainability benefits (UI Path). 

Take Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) for example. They have recently launched many RPA initiatives with sustainability being their main priority

Where RPA helps automate the handling of data, IoT heightens the ability for devices and machines to communicate that data. When mixed together, the possibilities are powerful. 

For manufacturers, it means applying things such as sensing technology, better control functionality, predictive modeling, automated diagnostics, heightened monitoring systems, and much more to a given facility or network of devices. Doing so cuts down on overproduction, waste, human touchpoints, energy consumption, etc... all of which greatly increases efficiency and sustainability while producing budget savings in organizations. 

To give you a sense of what other industry sustainability programs are investing in for their facilities, here is a graph from Automation World’s survey of heavy industry companies.

Image from Automation World

Breakthrough Carbontech Turns Emissions into Valuable Products

And according to Forbes, The New York Times, GreenBiz, and many others, there is a carbontech revolution on the rise. 

To truly understand this revolution, it’s helpful to level set and understand the three core areas of focus when dealing with carbon emissions: Carbon capture, carbon sequestration, and carbontech. Carbon capture grabs greenhouse gasses from either the air (direct-air capture) or from the source of emissions (point-source capture). Point-source capture being the most relevant for energy-intensive industries. From there, carbon is sequestered and stored in various ways (Clean Energy Ventures). 

Carbontech is any technology that utilizes captured CO2 in a productive way. I.e. sequestering it into something usable. 

The problem with many carbontech companies is that (up until recent breakthroughs) it’s been expensive and inflexible on the output produced. 

Take biochar. 

Biochar is a charcoal-like material made from capturing emissions and sequestering them into biomass. It’s then burned for energy. Unfortunately, this is a process with a single output that’s probably reliant on an expensive distribution channel. This biochar startup, for example, currently has a carbon removal cost of $600 per CO2 ton. Next year the company hopes to get to $400 per ton and then to achieve $200 per ton by 2024. It is conceivable that they could eventually get to a cost below $100 per ton.

There are a wide range of carbontech solutions, but almost all of them can only go as low as around $100 per CO2 ton captured

In contrast, at HYCO1, we contract CO2 removal for $0 per ton


We capture greenhouse gas emissions straight from the point-source and, on our nickel, we convert the CO2 into green building block chemical gases such as ultra-pure streams of Hydrogen and Carbon Monoxide. We use these building block gases to make targeted high-value products that pay for the capital investment needed to take and convert CO2. And we do it at an industrial scale (100 TPD to 5,000 TPD). So, for energy-intensive industrial manufacturers, we can take your current environmental burden (CO2 emissions) and your potential future carbon tax liability and turn these into a win-win outcome.

Our proprietary, patent-pending process: 

  • Converts 100% of CO2 emissions into highly valuable products
  • Scales from 100 tons per day to 5,000 tons per day of CO2 emissions
  • Has no out-of-pocket expense for industrial manufacturers
  • Will be commercially ready by mid-2022

You can learn more about our process here.

HYCO1 Can Help Harder-to-Abate Industries Decarbonize! 

For us, it’s not good enough to be carbon neutral. We believe in helping companies reach carbon negative. Our leadership team at HYCO1 has the experience and track record to bring this vision to reality. And the first step is improving the sustainability in energy-intensive industrial manufacturers. 

If you’re a senior executive or if you’ve been tasked with clean energy initiatives at your company, please reach out either on our contact page or through LinkedIn to discuss how you can decarbonize your business with no out-of-pocket expenses. 

Additional Resources

  1. Mission possible report https://www.energy-transitions.org/publications/mission-possible/#download-form
  2. Post from strategic energy consulting: http://www.sustainabilityconsulting.com/blog/2021/6/1/getting-to-net-zero-for-hard-to-abate-sectors
  3. Climate action article on harder to abate industries: https://www.climateaction.org/news/efforts-in-making-hard-to-abate-a-thing-of-the-past
  4. https://www.wri.org/climate/expert-perspective/unlocking-hard-abate-sectors
  5. https://eadcorporate.com/implementing-industrial-automation-in-2021/
  6. https://www.sia-partners.com/en/news-and-publications/from-our-experts/iot-and-rpa-connecting-physical-world-digital-world
  7. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-smart-manufacturing-can-embrace-sustainability-and-become-future-ready
  8. https://netzeroclimate.org/sectors/heavy_industry/
  9. https://www.iea.org/articles/the-challenge-of-reaching-zero-emissions-in-heavy-industry
  10. https://cio.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/next-gen-technologies/rpa-going-beyond-efficiency-to-impact-sustainability/75550725

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