Renewable Energy

‘Green’ steel, cement for clean energy? Not yet there, says IEA; here’s why

In order to achieve net zero emission target, battery manufacturing capacity for electronic vehicles has to multiply by six times the present capacity by 2030

By Seema Prasad
Published: Friday 13 January 2023
In order to meet their pledges to the Paris agreement, most countries will have to engage more workers to install and manufacture clean energy technologies widely. Photo: iStock.

Most net-zero emission (NZE) routes for steel and cement production are not yet commercially available, according to a new report. This is despite a few companies in the automotive sector committing themselves to use ‘green steel’ — manufacturing of steel with technologies that limit emissions — from 2025.

Solar and wind energy units require more steel, aluminium and in some cases, cement per unit of capacity than fossil fuel-based generating technologies, highlighted the Energy Technology Perspectives 2023 report. The document was released January 12, 2023, by the intergovernmental organisation International Energy Agency.

Also read: India’s NDC: Why sector-specific targets are needed for reducing emissions

In order to manufacture technologies for renewable energy production, the steel and cement industry must target around 130 megatonnes (Mt) of primary steel and 370 Mt of cement production by 2030, the report said.

Among certain project assessments that the researchers consider likely to achieve near-zero emission production immediately, they found only 10 per cent preparation towards a decarbonising effort for primary steel and 3 per cent for cement.

These projects are mainly in Europe and North America, but demand grows most in emerging markets and developing economies, pointing to the need for increased international cooperation, the document observed on net-zero scenario projections.

Key technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage for cement and steel industries and hydrogen-based steel manufacturing are still in prototype and demonstration stages.

“Experience shows that the innovation process usually takes 20 to 70 years from prototype to commercialisation, with large-scale process technologies taking typically longer than small modular technologies,” the report said.

The NZE Scenario requires a shortening of innovation cycles, which can be partially achieved by improving the commercial advantage of clean energy technologies. There are several promising projects seeking to address pressing innovation gaps in a broad range of technology areas, but they need to progress quickly to play a major role in the next three decades, noted the document.

“Global co-operation and international knowledge transfer, as well as tracking progress, such as in the ETP Clean Energy Technology Guide and the IEA Clean Energy Demonstration Projects Database, will be vital in this regard,” the report added.

Current manufacturing goals can’t meet NZE target when it also comes to components such as batteries, electrolysers, off-shore wind parts, and heat pumps. In order to achieve the same, battery manufacturing capacity for electronic vehicles has to multiply by six times the present capacity by 2030, according to the analysis. This would still only meet 80 per cent of the requirements of the net-zero emission scenario.

Also read: Can carbon capture be new hope for mitigating CO2 emissions?

The manufacturing of onshore wind components would only grow by 5-10 per cent and offshore wind components would only grow by 20-55 per cent, according to current project announcements.

Similarly, based on the goals of recent project deals, electrolyser manufacturing capacity will only multiply ten times from today’s current capacity to just 100 gigawatts (GW) globally by 2030. Therefore, meeting only half of the net-zero emissions requirements as estimated by the authors of the report.

“Announced heat pump manufacturing projects could meet a third of NZE Scenario needs for 2030, with an equivalent figure of the half for fuel cell trucks,” the analysis said.

The researchers suggest that these gaps can be met with heavy investment at around $650 billion a year by 2030, which is more than three times the present investment in clean energy technologies.

In order to meet their pledges to the Paris agreement, most countries will have to engage more workers to install and manufacture clean energy technologies widely. 

From 33 million workers engaged in the sector today, an additional four million employees are required for solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, wind and heat pump systems installation and manufacturing.

When it comes to handling parts of electronic vehicles, eight more million workers will be needed. However, a lot of the people employed in the internal combustion engine sectors may just be redeployed to manufacture electronic vehicles, the report said.

Energy resources being concentrated in one geographical area pose a threat to the world’s energy security, as evidenced by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Currently, China is the dominant producer of solar panels, wind, Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries, electrolysers and heat pumps.

Lithium, a key metal for producing electronic vehicles, is mostly concentrated in Australia, Chile and China. Meanwhile, 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Republic of Congo.

Tight supply chains increased the prices of EV batteries and wind turbines outside China for the first time in 2022.

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