Using Facility-Level Emissions Data to Estimate the Technical Potential of Alternative Thermal Sources to Meet Industrial Heat Demand

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Industry is frequently highlighted as the world's largest energy-using end-use sector. More specifically, the demand for heat drives much of the demand for energy and fossil fuels in the industrial sector. We conduct a top-down analysis to characterize historical energy and fossil fuel use in 14 top-GHG-emitting industries in the United States, their heat demand requirements, and the potential to substitute heat from geothermal, solar thermal (including concentrating technologies), and small modular nuclear reactors to meet these needs while reducing fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We base this analysis on publicly-available facility-level GHG emissions and fuel-combustion data, in addition to assumed requirements for process temperature, to demonstrate the potential value to industry energy analysts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data. We estimate on a county level that the adoption of these alternative heat sources could have reduced 2015 fossil-fuel use by approximately 31% and combustion GHG emissions by approximately 24%. The most extensive substitution opportunities are in the ethyl alcohol manufacturing and wet corn-milling industries; petroleum refining represents the largest absolute emissions mitigation potential. This initial top-down analysis of substitution potential does not consider more detailed technical factors, including resource availability that will influence the actual deployment of alternative energy technologies. The analysis also does not consider the economic or market factors, including the expected cost to build and operate these generators. We do assume process byproducts that are extensively used for combustion fuels would not be good candidates for substitution for alternative energy generators. Based on these caveats, our analysis could be considered a top-range estimate for this mix of heat generators and industry heat demands. Any subsequent analysis of these alternate energy sources should increase the level of technical, economic, and policy detail.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1077-1090
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Energy
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-71308


  • Emissions
  • Industry
  • Manufacturing
  • Thermal energy


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