Biofuels, green hydrogen or something else? – Industry’s alternatives to fossil fuels
For decades, industry has been dependent on fossil fuels. But faced with climate change, it must come up with cleaner fuel solutions that can meet its high energy demand. Which alternatives are the most promising, and do they have any downsides?
Industry is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Driven by industrialization and economic development, increased fuel consumption in the sector has also increased industrial emissions. According to the IEA (International Energy Association), in 2021 industry was responsible for approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which derive from the use of fossil fuels.
But as the world moves towards a more sustainable future, also industry needs to adopt cleaner and more sustainable fuel sources. The first steps have already been taken. The use of coal has decreased, and the use of natural gas has increased. The shift has partly been driven by lower emissions from natural gas, which reduces CO2 emissions by 20% compared to other fossil fuels.
Natural gas is a cost effective and available way to reduce emissions, and acts as a perfect transitional fuel. However, industry needs other future solutions to reach its emission targets. We discuss the most promising ones below.
Biofuels are derived from organic matter, such as crops, agricultural waste, and forestry residues. They emit less greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels when burned. For example, biogas can reduce fuel lifecycle emissions by up to 90% compared to fossil fuels. In addition to biogas, the most used biofuels are biodiesel and bioethanol.
The most sustainable way to produce biofuel is by utilizing sustainable feedstock such as organic waste, manure, or sewage sludge. In this way, production doesn’t affect land use or food security.
Biofuels can be either liquid, like biodiesel and bioethanol, or gaseous, like biogas. However, biogas can also be used in liquefied form as LBG. As biogas is interchangeable with natural gas, it can be used to replace natural gas in industrial processes without any equipment modifications.
Read more: How is biogas produced?
Renewable energy sources
Solar, wind, hydro, and other renewable energy sources (RES) are gaining popularity as potential energy sources for both industry and households. As an energy source, RES are highly sustainable and replenish at a higher rate than their consumption. They also emit far less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.
However, RES are intermittent and may not be able to consistently meet industrial energy. The use of battery storage and other energy storage technologies can help to address this issue. When using RES, industries can also benefit from energy market services such as demand response that help them to optimize their consumption.
Synthetic fuels, like synthetic methane and power-to-gas, are also considered potential solutions for industry. Synthetic methane is produced using hydrogen and CO2. Like biogas, it can be used as a drop-in replacement for natural gas. It can also be used in existing infrastructure designed for natural gas and biogas to guarantee a smooth transition towards a more sustainable future. Power-to-gas, on the other hand, involves the conversion of excess renewable electricity into hydrogen or synthetic methane. As of today, synthetic methane is costly to produce.
Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. Green hydrogen is versatile and can be used in a wide range of applications, including transportation (such as fuel cell vehicles), power generation, industrial processes, and energy storage. It is considered an alternative to fossil fuels, as it has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy future. It emits only water vapor when burned. However, the production of green hydrogen is currently expensive, and there are challenges in scaling it up to meet the industrial demand.