Carbon neutrality in the industrial sector: How to get there?

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The industrial sector is a crucial source of social value and development in a country. However, this sector with its all sub-activities greatly contributes to GHG emissions in the world. With objectives to reduce carbon emissions by 50% in 2030 and achieve total carbon neutrality by 2050, the challenge is greater than ever.


Why is it important to achieve carbon neutrality? What are the other options for industrial activities?

Moving towards a low carbon future is the aim of all countries that were present at the last UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Talks about “Decarbonisation” and “Climate change” were the highlights of the meeting. They come to ensure and commit governments and companies all over the world to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) and specifically carbon emissions in the atmosphere.


For the industrial sector, this will be a great challenge as they are responsible for 23% of the GHG emissions in the US, and around 30% of these emissions in the world. This also includes the energy use in the industries.

Why is it important to achieve carbon neutrality?


Carbon emissions, carbon dioxide specifically, are considered one of the main GHG that contribute to global warming. Therefore, uncontrollable carbon emissions are tragically raising our planet’s temperature. These drastic changes in our atmosphere and our planet can lead to natural disasters that can be devastating to our life and our existence on this planet.


This is why it is important to reduce GHG emissions, especially carbon dioxide emissions. 


To achieve carbon neutrality, as acclaimed in the Paris Agreement and most recently in the last UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) by 2050, there are some frameworks and meetings that are held to help companies and governments all over the world reduce their carbon footprint. It became a regulatory issue in some countries, while in others it is a voluntary initiative included in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy.


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Laws and initiatives about carbon neutrality


Here are some examples of applications and laws to achieve carbon neutrality:


  • In 2021 the European Council adopted the “European climate law”. This law adopts the goals set in the “European Green Deal” that commits all EU countries to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. Therefore, it ensures that all industrial sectors should play their part in achieving this goal! 
  • In 2021, the United States of America rejoined the Paris Agreement and the government’s commitment to low carbon emissions rapidly took place. Counting also on the private sector’s initiatives to play their part, as the First Movers Coalition to shift to green technologies and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Big budgets are being announced to invest in research and development projects for adopting clean hydrogen technologies and other technologies for carbon capture and storage.
  • In the United Kingdom (UK) the Climate Change Act 2008 adopted by the government, sets the targets for carbon and GHG emissions. Measures and committees are in place to make sure that the targets are set. The UK also aims to be the first to achieve 78% fewer emissions by 2035, and net-zero emissions by 2050. These objectives and after the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow forced firms in the UK to make transparent their strategies on how they will achieve net-zero emissions.
  • There are international standards that can help companies monitor and quantify their GHG emissions and removals. The ISO 14064 standard provides such guidance. Corporations adopting this strategy can help improve their image and positively impact the environment.

However, achieving carbon neutrality is not an easy task. It is essential to involve the most polluting sectors. Economic resources, technological tools (for innovation within production processes) and infrastructure are required amongst other alternative solutions that can help industries in their activities to reduce carbon emissions or capture them.


Alternative resources for industrial decarbonisation


The carbon dioxide emissions represent around 90% of the GHG emissions from industrial activities. The aim is to reduce these emissions. However, in some types of industries, it will be more challenging than others. Some industries have to review their whole process of manufacturing and production in order to start the reduction of their emissions. 


CO2 Capture 


Reducing CO2 emissions by putting in place chemical reactions and/or physical means to capture these emissions. It is done by collecting concentrated steam of CO2 by the implemented means.


Here are some examples that succeeded in carbon capture:


In British Columbia, Canada, industries working with the authorities have managed to implement successful measures (chemical and physical) to reduce carbon emissions by capturing the concentrated steams in the chimneys before they reach the atmosphere. The aim is to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.


In Iceland, the Orca carbon capture plant, as its name suggests, has launched an interesting project for carbon capture: the plant is capable of capturing 4 000 tons of carbon per year. Once the CO2 emissions are captured, they are injected into porous basaltic rocks in the ground. However, this technology and technique is considered to be highly costly, and it is still under testing phases to discover how to reduce these costs. Some environmental activists consider that this technique is not good for the environment as it transforms the rocks in the ground even if it helps clean the atmosphere.


CO2 Storage


There are different ways to achieve CO2 storage, but it is mainly geologically dependent


The first approach, mineral carbonation, is to fix the CO2 in non-carbonate minerals and porous rocks. Hence, it depends completely on the geological rock formations that exist in the geographical area to store the captured carbon. Once the CO2 emissions are captured, they are stored underground.

We have mentioned previously that the Orca carbon capture plant stores its captured carbon in basaltic porous rocks, where carbon dioxide fills the gaps in this geological formation. Therefore, it is important to have porous-type rocks in order to successfully store carbon in the ground.


The second approach is geological storage. This technique is derived from the oil and gas industry. It consists of injecting the CO2 below the earth's surface, in either depleted oil and gas reservoirs or in porous sedimentary rocks.


Another approach is the ocean storage of CO2. It consists of injecting and dissolving CO2 at depths below 3000 m. The density of CO2 is higher than the seawater, this procedure will imprison the CO2 in the water and form a sort of lake. Then, the dissolution of the CO2 will completely depend on the surrounding environmental conditions. The efficiency of oceanic CO2 sequestration depends entirely on the injection conditions, geological conditions and the physicochemical reactions of CO2 in the marine environment.


CO2 usage as raw material


Some studies consider that carbon dioxide is an important raw material of the future. Its chemical characteristics make it a fundamental raw material in the chemical industries. For example, manufacturing solvents and monomers which are important in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries can be possible by the synthesis of cyclic carbonate through the cycloaddition of carbon dioxide.

Other uses of carbon dioxide are less common but exist in the food industries in order to manufacture food and carbonated drinks.


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Process optimisation and adaptation


Some of the environmental actions are related to promoting recycling, implementing a responsible purchasing policy, improving the company's energy performance and carrying out the evaluation of CO2 emissions. 

The evaluation and quantification of CO2 emissions and GHG emissions globally can be carried out thanks to probes and sensors. This will allow the monitoring of the GHG emissions and checking the efficiency of the implemented measures.


Optimising and adapting the processes in the industrial sectors can be really challenging and costly. However, aiming to reduce GHG emissions globally and carbon dioxide emissions specifically is among the primary objectives of a corporation when it adopts a CSR policy. When a company engages in CSR, it is bound to have a positive impact on the environment and the community. Investing in green technologies is a major step to producing energy and electricity to replace fossil fuels in the heating processes in some industrial activities that can help reduce GHG emissions.


Digital technologies can play a major role in the decarbonisation process and the evaluation of the carbon footprint. It is possible to monitor the environmental performance indicators through dedicated tools, allowing to make fast corrective actions when needed.

The climate emergency is pushing companies and the scientific community to find new solutions to limit the GHG emissions in the atmosphere. The existing solutions are interesting but can be costly. On the other hand, management actions must not be left aside. A strategic plan that focuses on the reduction of GHG emissions is a key component to engage stakeholders with actions against climate change. These are the first steps in cleaning our atmosphere and the preservation of “our Planet”! 


To go further: 

> Improve your business by engaging a CSR approach with BlueKanGo’s digital platform and its Sustainable Development software (available on BueKanGo’s Marketplace)