Electrification of the process industry has potential that demands development

Published on 16 March 2017

From now until 2050, Dutch industry could electrify quite a few of its processes and in doing so contribute to the Paris Agreement's climate objectives. This requires system, as well as process innovations. In this respect it is useful to make a distinction between various electrification strategies. This is evident from a study carried out by Berenschot, CE Delft, Industrial Energy Experts and Energy Matters, under contract to the RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency), in cooperation with TKI Industrie & Energie.

The Dutch process industry accounts for 46% of total energy use in the Netherlands and as such is an essential player in the energy transition. Electrification of the process industry is one of the potential transition pathways towards achieving a sustainable energy supply, assuming that a fully CO2-neutral energy supply will become available in the future. System and process innovations are required to optimally exploit this transition pathway. This includes the further development of high-temperature heat pumps, the development of new business models and market roles for ESCOs (for services), the adjustment of the power rate structure and more room for experimentation.

The study completed by Berenschot, CE Delft, Industrial Energy Experts and Energy Matters makes a distinction between two electrification strategies: flexible electrification and baseload electrification. Some of the technologies are more suitable for flexible electrification, while other technologies are more suitable for baseload electrification. Price volatility trends are especially important for flexible electrification, while the coefficient of performance (COP) is key to baseload electrification. Furthermore, two areas of application are of importance, namely electrification in the utilities and the electrification of the production process itself. The involvement of ESCOs is especially important for electrification in the utilities (whereby an ESCO for example supplies steam as a service, instead of electricity or gas).

Against this background, the consortium drew up an overview of the electrification categories and promising technologies for the short, medium and long-term. Power-to-heat has a high potential over the short-term with a wide range of technologies, applications and involved parties. This includes technologies such as the high-temperature heat pump, steam recompression and mechanical vapour recompression. The following categories show more promise over the long-term. Further research into technical options is required here. Power-to-hydrogen, primarily electrolysis, has a high potential over the longer term, for flexible, as well as baseload applications. However, at the present time this option is not yet economically feasible for large-scale application. The potential of power-to-gas options only appears to be interesting over the long-term. Power-to-chemicals has a high potential and a high variety in terms of options and initiatives, but is still primarily in the initial phase. Power-to-mechanical drive and power-to-separation have a limited potential.

The study does not make any pronouncements concerning the optimal combination of transition pathways. In addition to electrification, this includes geothermal energy, biomass and CCUS. On the other hand, the study does make recommendations concerning the development of industrial electrification as a transition pathway, involving a broad range of development needs. If these developments are acted upon over the short-term, the Netherlands could occupy an internationally distinctive innovation position in the area of industrial electrification.

Bert den Ouden

Bert den Ouden

Managing director