Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

How Much Can Industry Decarbonize? Summer Study Author Discusses EPA’s New Estimate


By Neal Elliott, Director Emeritus

With industry accounting for more than 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, its decarbonization will be crucial for meeting U.S. climate goals. Yet industry is not as easy to electrify as other parts of the U.S. economy, because some of its processes require higher temperatures than electric heat pumps can currently handle. So, how much and how quickly can industry really decarbonize?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers an estimate in a paper to be presented at next month’s biennial Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry. The EPA analysis is one of more than four dozen papers that this 14th biennial event, hosted virtually this year, will publish on technologies, policies, and programs to reduce industry’s energy use and emissions.


“This analysis shows that many different approaches are needed to achieve deep decarbonization by 2050,” says Elizabeth Dutrow, the founding manager of EPA’s ENERGY STAR Industrial Partnerships, former Summer Study panel leader, and long-time conference contributor. “Industry needs to start now,” she adds. Dutrow co-authored the paper with Gale Boyd of Duke University, Josh Smith of consulting firm ICF, and Ernst Worrell of Utrecht University — all long-time conference contributors.

The authors estimate the potential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. manufacturing overall and in the seven most carbon- and energy-intensive industries. They used the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook as their Reference Case forecast of industrial activity and combined it with a review of literature on industrial emissions technologies and practices.

I reached out to Dutrow to get a preview of their findings. Here are excerpts of our conversation:

In EPA’s assessment, how much industrial decarbonization is possible by 2050?

Our evaluation estimates a reduction potential of 86% from EIA’s estimated level of industrial emissions in 2050. While we did not evaluate the timing of specific actions between now and 2050, there are logical time periods for certain activities. For example, energy efficiency is important now and into the future, whereas electrification will depend on appropriate pricing and a decarbonized grid​​…

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