Heat that is clean, green - and lean

Switching to electrical heating can halve the energy required to produce many goods, while reducing costs and increasing production speed, a report from one of the world’s leading climate-change thinktanks has concluded.

Heidi Lee and Vanessa Petrie, Beyond Zero Emissions.

The Electrifying Industry report, produced by Australian-based organisation Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), outlines how Australian industry can decarbonise their heating processes through the transformation from fossil-fuel-based energy to electricity.

The report projects that transitioning heating processes from fossil-fuel-based energy to renewable electricity would help Australian industry reduce national greenhouse emissions up to 8 per cent and halve its energy requirements. The approach globally would reduce international emissions by 12 percent, the report says.

Heidi Lee, BZE interim Head of Strategy and Research, says Australian manufacturing produces about 8 percent of Australia’s national greenhouse emissions, the equivalent output of the entire vehicle fleet of the country.

“Decarbonising industrial heating processes by using electricity not only reduces emissions, but uses less energy, produces less waste, and provides outcomes faster and more efficiently,” Lee says.

A versatile form of energy

Electrifying Industry identifies electricity as a remarkably versatile form of energy that can be used to power any industrial heat process, from cooking a can of beans to melting 100 tonnes of iron. It notes that there is also no practical temperature limit to electrical heat: “A plasma torch furnace can reach 5,000°C or more, far higher than any coal or gas-fired furnace.”

The report looks at the potential of five categories of electrical heating technology: industrial heat pumps; electromagnetic heating; electric furnaces; renewable hydrogen produced by electrolysis; and heat storage.

Lee says the full transition to these technologies provides many flow-on effects, especially for iron ore and steel production in a resource-rich country such as Australia. With the ultimate aim of having industry being its own renewable energy producer, Lee says there is also huge potential in hydrogen exporting.

Someone must take the lead

According to Electrifying Industry, the cost of renewable energy in Australia has dropped dramatically in recent years as gas prices have risen in the wake of export growth, with renewable energy expected to be 30 to 50 per cent cheaper again by 2028.

Lee says the challenge now is find a leading company willing to “road-test” these new processes and lead the charge in helping build the knowledge and skills for industry more broadly.

“One of the obstacles we are facing is that we are trying to localise global solutions,” Lee says. “Everything we need to make this happen is out there, it just isn’t common in Australia. We need support across all sectors; government, industry and investors; to make it happen.”

About the Electrifying Industry report

Using a case study approach, the Electrifying Industry report clearly outlines how Australian industry can decarbonise their heating processes through the transformation from fossil-fuel-based energy to electricity, cutting Australia’s national greenhouse emissions by up to 8 per cent and potentially doubling the efficiency of many industrial processes.

Electrifying Industry explores the potential of five categories of electrical heating technology:

  1. industrial heat pumps
  2. electromagnetic heating – infrared; induction and microwaves
  3. electric furnaces – resistance, arc and plasma
  4. renewable hydrogen produced by electrolysis
  5. heat storage – storing electricity as heat.

The efficiency of electricity

Heidi Lee, interim Head of Strategy and Research at Beyond Zero Emissions, says electrical heating technologies use energy more efficiently because they can:

  • deliver heat at the precise temperature required (traditionally, industrial heat is often provided at temperatures well above what is needed)
  • transfer heat directly to a material, with very little heat escaping to the environment
  • provide heat at the point of use, minimising distribution losses.