Decarbonisation of End Uses

Article by Malcolm Wilkinson CEng FIChemE, Richard Darton CEng FIChemE, Colin Pritchard CEng FIChemE, Emma Knowles CEng MIChemE, Ana Montoro CEng MIChemE, Camille Petit CEng MIChemE and Aidong Yang AMIChemE

Malcolm Wilkinson and members of the Sustainability Special Interest Group discuss the technologies available to decarbonise non-power sectors

ACHIEVING zero-carbon is a challenge and an opportunity to the engineering community in general, and chemical engineers in particular. Chemical engineers will play a crucial role in the design of pathways to decarbonise processes in energy-intensive sectors, notably power, heavy industry and transport, and to a lesser extent in buildings and agriculture. The Sustainability Special Interest Group (SSIG) has prepared a series of thought pieces on achieving zero-carbon; this is the third in the series following two entitled The Future of the Oil & Gas Industry1 and Zero-Carbon Electricity2. This latest piece focuses on the end uses of fossil fuels outside the power sector, and the technologies available to decarbonise them. The final contribution in the series will cover materials efficiency and the circular economy.

Global industry contributes 21% of greenhouse gas emissions3. Cement manufacture, iron and steel production and chemicals represent the principal emitters. Agriculture contributes 24% of global emissions, transportation 14%, and gas heating/cooling in domestic and business buildings a further 6% (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: global greenhouse gas emissions by sector

Heavy Industry

Decarbonising cement, steel and chemicals production requires solutions which go beyond electrification of the energy inputs, and necessitates amending the chemical and physical processes employed. To reduce emissions, these sectors will need to replace fossil fuel-based energy inputs with zero-emission electricity or other low or zero-carbon fuels, improve heat integration and energy efficiency, and take advantage of new process routes and methods of working. These industries will also need to develop new products and business models which reduce demand for their carbon-intensive products and services, meet sustainable development goals and promote the circular economy by recycling material at the end of product life.

Article By

Malcolm Wilkinson CEng FIChemE

Consultant; Chair of Sustainability Special Interest Group


Richard Darton CEng FIChemE

Emeritus Professor of Engineering Science, University of Oxford


Emma Knowles CEng MIChemE

Process & Sustainability Consultant at Carbon Architecture


Ana Montoro CEng MIChemE

Independent Environmental Consultant


Camille Petit CEng MIChemE

Reader in Materials Engineering, Imperial College London


Aidong Yang AMIChemE

Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Science University of Oxford


Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.