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By Nora Wang Esram & Anna Johnson
Courtesy of ACEEE

Investments in U.S. manufacturing surged by an impressive 63% in 2023, the most substantial industrial sector expansion in nearly 75 years. Industry is likely to become the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States if new manufacturing investments are not paired with rapid deployment of decarbonization solutions.

Directly electrifying industrial process heat to avoid combustion of fossil fuels is essential. Some green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage will be needed but, due to their expense and other challenges, should generally be limited to applications that are hard to electrify. Especially in the case of low- to medium-temperature process heating (below 300°C), electrification technologies are commercially available today. The Department of Energy recently gave its vote of confidence, awarding more than half of a $6 billion decarbonization funding pot to electrification projects—but even this investment will only be a start.

Industrial Electrification
(Image: Adobe Stock / ipopba)

 

A new ACEEE brief recommends actions that policymakers, utilities, and utility regulators can take to catalyze electrification of process heating while supporting the growth of U.S. manufacturing and strengthening the grid.

Industrial electrification will cut planet-warming emissions and benefit industry and communities.

The climate crisis makes electrification imperative—process heating in industry accounts for about 30% of the sector’s carbon emissions today—but it’s not the only reason to act. Much like an electric vehicle can cost less to own and drive over its lifetime than a car with a combustion engine, electric industrial equipment can often compete with natural gas-fueled technologies on operating costs and lead to long-term savings for manufacturers.

Electrification also creates a win-win by lowering pollution and supporting jobs. In recent years, frontline communities have increasingly sought to safeguard their neighborhoods by protesting against new industrial facilities that burn fossil fuels, and some residents choose to move away from industrial areas entirely, which may aggravate workforce shortages. But electricity-powered production offers an avenue for job creation and economic advancement without compromising the health and wellbeing of neighboring communities…

Electrification, Nora Wang EsramNora Wang Esram, Senior Director for Research, oversees ACEEE’s research programs including Buildings, Industry, Transportation, Behavior, and Health and Environment. She leads and manages ACEEE’s research activities. She joined ACEEE in 2020.

ElectrificationAnna Johnson, Senior Researcher, Industrial Program, conducts research and analysis to support industrial decarbonization efforts. She joined ACEEE in 2022. Her work has focused on enabling the use of variable renewable power by industry, strategic integration across approaches to supply and demand side energy management, and projects specific to steel, aluminum, and petrochemical manufacturing.

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