Solving the conundrum of industrial heat

New industrial heating technologies could help cut emissions in one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize.

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

To make products like cement, steel and even baby food, you need heat — and lots of it. Industrial heat accounted for about one-fifth of all energy used in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency.

Factories often burn coal or fossil gas to generate consistent temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. And most run nearly 24/7 to maintain profitability in competitive commodity markets. 

Other sectors such as power and ground transportation have clear pathways to decarbonization, relying mainly on electrification and cheap, intermittent renewables. But these solutions don’t deliver consistent temperatures and the 24/7 energy needed to make things like steel and petrochemicals. So industrial heat has been a far more stubborn problem to solve.

But there’s a crowded field of technologies lining up to try: hydrogen, biogas, heat pumps, electric arc furnaces and even heat batteries.

In this episode, Shayle talks to John O’Donnell, co-founder and CEO of Rondo Energy, a thermal storage startup. (Shayle’s venture capital firm, Energy Impact Partners, has made investments in Rondo Energy.) They break down the challenges of industrial heat and discuss the range of technologies that could help generate it with low emissions.

John and Shayle cover topics including:

  • The fuels we currently rely on for specific industrial uses and possible alternatives.
  • How thermal batteries can help to solve the intermittency challenges of wind and solar.
  • Industrial grid defection, where large industrial facilities build behind-the-meter renewables to avoid the rising costs of delivered electricity.
  • The potential for industrial growth in places with access to cheap renewables, including the American Midwest.

Recommended resources:

  • McKinsey: Net-zero heat: Long-duration energy storage to accelerate energy system decarbonization
  • Canary: This startup’s energy storage tech is essentially a giant toaster’
  • Canary: This startup wants to use cheap surplus clean energy to make high-temperature industrial heat
  • Catalyst: The many pathways to decarbonizing chemicals

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

Catalyst is supported by Scale Microgrid Solutions, your comprehensive source for all distributed energy financing. Distributed generation can be complex. Scale makes financing it easy. Visit scalecapitalsolutions.com to learn more.

Catalyst is supported by CohnReznick Capital, a trusted source for renewable energy investment banking servicing the US sustainability sector. Visit cohnreznickcapital.com to learn more.