Renewable Thermal Collaborative
The Renewable Thermal Vision banner

To create the products we use and the food we eat in our everyday lives, the industrial sector produces 24% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. More than half of that —approximately 13% of total U.S. emissions—comes from industry’s use of thermal energy. Until recently, this was the forgotten wedge of U.S. climate action. 

Corporate energy buyers, policymakers, and many more who want to contribute to meeting our climate goals need actionable insights and clear pathways to decarbonize industrial process heat.

The RTC has created the Renewable Thermal Vision Report examining six priority industrial sectors in the U.S., analyzing their thermal energy use by industrial process, temperature (high, medium, and low), and geography. Incorporating post-Inflation Reduction Act cost projections and estimates of technology availability, the report identifies five parallel pathways to decarbonize U.S. industry by 2050. Alongise the report, the RTC is publishing deep-dives into six sectors and eight technologies, helping corporate energy buyers and policymakers set priorities and take informed, smart, and timely actions to meet near-, medium-, and long-term decarbonization goals. The analysis behind the report was conducted by the Boston Consulting Group in partnership with WWF.

The report identifies five parallel pathways to decarbonize industrial heat:

  • Electrify industry processes: Electrify low- and medium- temperature processes with cost competitive technologies such as heat pumps and electric steam boilers and deploy other electric resistance technologies in medium-high temperature processes.
  • Green the grid: Use virtual power purchase agreements and other high impact renewable power procurement methods to accelerate the transition to a carbon free electric grid to meet industrial green electricity needs.
  • Deploy renewable fuels: Deploy sustainable and waste-derived Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) and biomass as supply constraints allow; and develop and scale green hydrogen use for high-heat industrial process.
  • Deploy renewable technologies: Scale solar thermal, thermal storage paired with low-cost intermittent renewables, and clean technology combinations such as heat pumps with geothermal and solar thermal.
  • Capture and store carbon: Deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) and direct air capture as a short- and medium-term lever in specific sectors. Phase down CCS as industry transitions to clean processes. Develop and deploy BECCS (bio-energy with CCS) for new and existing biomass combustion.

Read more about the pathways:

To view the reports below, enter your email for download access.

Summaries
  • Executive Slide Deck
Sector Packs
  • Food and Beverage
  • Paper
  • Iron and Steel
  • Chemical
  • Refineries
  • Cement
Technology Packs
  • Heat Pumps
  • Solar Thermal
  • Biomass
  • Thermal Storage
  • Electric Resistance
  • Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)
  • Clean Hydrogen
  • Carbon Capture for Use or Sequestration (CCUS)

FAQ

The Renewable Thermal Vision Report focuses on decarbonizing U.S. industry’s use of thermal energy, providing actionable new insights and outlining potential pathways to reach net zero by 2050. The Report looks across the six major industrial sectors in the U.S., and identifies near-term opportunities, as well as medium- and long-term enabling conditions, to help us meet our climate goals. It includes specific recommendations alongside high-level analysis of how technologies and options acheive economic feasibility and climate impact. Businesses and institutions that have industrial heating and cooling processes, whether members of RTC or not, will receive valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities available to them to decarbonize, including early wins that can be banked quickly.

The industrial sector is the third largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S., after transportation and electricity, but lags woefully behind in decarbonization.  We must accelerate progress to have any chance of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 ° C.  This report aims to stimulate deeper conversations, partnerships, and radical collaboration among energy buyers, solution providers, and policymakers, ultimately fostering a widely held vision of how we can decarbonize industrial thermal energy use.

The Renewable Thermal Vision Report relies extensively on the Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) Energy Outlook (2019) and EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) Flight Database (2018).  It also considers available renewable thermal fuels and technologies, based on BCG analysis of abatement potentials and costs, as well as supply availability from analysis and projections by the US Department of Energy, EIA, and the National Renewable Energy Lab. Based on these analyses, the RTC and BCG team then allocated renewable thermal technologies and fuels to industrial sectors based on heat and process needs, costs, and fuel supply availability, and modeled thermal energy consumption and related emissions based on projected uptake, low-cost renewable alternatives, and supply availability.

The report identifies five parallel pathways to decarbonize industrial heat.

  • Electrify industry processes: Electrify low- and medium- temperature processes with cost competitive technologies such as heat pumps and electric steam boilers and deploy other electric resistance technologies in medium-high temperature processes.
  • Green the grid: Use virtual power purchase agreements and other high impact renewable power procurement methods to accelerate the transition to a carbon free electric grid to meet industrial green electricity needs.
  • Deploy renewable fuels: Deploy sustainable and waste-derived Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) and biomass as supply constraints allow; and develop and scale green hydrogen use for high-heat industrial process.
  • Deploy renewable technologies: Scale solar thermal, thermal storage paired with low-cost intermittent renewables, and clean technology combinations such as heat pumps with geothermal and solar thermal.
  • Capture and store carbon: Deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) and direct air capture as a short- and medium-term lever in specific sectors. Phase down CCS as industry transitions to clean processes. Develop and deploy BECCS (bio-energy with CCS) for new and existing biomass combustion.

The Report will help the RTC, energy users and suppliers, policymakers and other stakeholders prioritize and accelerate action to decarbonize industrial heat. We plan to roll these findings into the development of sector and technology action plans, and prompt early action.  We plan to build on these early wins to drive the technology, market and policy changes needed for the short- medium- and long-term. We expect the report to stimulate deeper conversations, partnerships, and collaboration among policymakers, with RTC members and sponsors and many other industry stakeholders to speed action.

Decarbonizing industrial heat will require significant changes in technologies, markets, business practices, and policies. This shift will create incredible economic and environmental improvement opportunities and broader societal impacts beyond the companies sourcing thermal energy. To successfully drive a renewable thermal energy transition that works for people, informed by the decarbonization pathways identified in the Vision Report, the RTC will be digging deeper into the needs of workers, and the impacts and benefits of these pathways for underserved communities. To provide critical perspectives across all of RTC’s work, the RTC will establish a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Advisory Committee of RTC members and outside organizations that represent marginalized and frontline communities impacted by fossil fuel pollution, people with disabilities, and labor groups affected by the renewable thermal transition.  The RTC will also continue to develop and share learning with the RTC community as we create deeper-dive sector and technology analysis and expand partnerships with labor and environmental justice groups.

Supporting Materials

Please reach out to Daniel Riley for more information about the Renewable Thermal Vision Report.