The need for deep decarbonisation in the energy intensive basic materials industry is increasingly recognised. In light of the vast future potential for renewable electricity the implications of electrifying the production of basic materials in the European Union was explored in a what-if thought-experiment. The results have been published in Energy, Volume 115, part 3.
Production of steel, cement, glass, lime, petrochemicals, chlorine and ammonia required 125 terawatt-hours of electricity and 851 terawatt-hours of fossil fuels for energetic purposes and 671 terawatt-hours of fossil fuels as feedstock in EU28 in 2010. The resulting carbon dioxide emissions were equivalent to 9% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
A complete shift of the energy demand as well as the resource base of feedstocks to electricity would result in an electricity demand of 1 713 terawatt-hours about 1 200 terawatt-hours of which would be for producing hydrogen and hydrocarbons for feedstock and energy purposes.
With increased material efficiency and some share of bio-based materials and biofuels the electricity demand can be much lower. The analysis suggests that electrification of basic materials production is technically possible but could have major implications on how the industry and the electric systems interact. It also entails substantial changes in relative prices for electricity and hydrocarbon fuels.