The challenge of decarbonizing the electro-intensive industry

The decarbonization of the economy affects governments, financial institutions, citizens and industries, even the most basic ones, those that are at the base of the production chain and are dedicated above all to transforming raw materials. Steelworks, cement factories, paper or aluminum producers, chemical industries, etc., are considered electro-intensive because their energy consumption represents 50% of their production cost. They are not easy to decarbonize and, furthermore, each one has its own difficulties. «They work with different temperature ranges depending on the processes and some can be electrified and others cannot. For example, cement needs 1,400 degree ovens, but paper in general requires lower temperature uses,” explains Miquel Rovira, director of Sustainability at the Technology Center of Catalonia (Eurecat).

What options do they have? «In a transversal way, digitize and optimize energy efficiency. Then would come the electrification of the processes that allow it (through the purchase of renewable energy and PPA contracts, for example) and, in those of a thermal type that cannot be electrified, use non-fossil fuels such as biomass or green hydrogen. , continues Rovira.

Digitize and save

An example of efficiency is found in the field of steel. The World Steel Association states that factories of this material “can emit 2.33 tons of CO2 per ton of steel, but thanks to the adoption of electric arc furnaces (EAFs use electrical energy to melt iron and scrap) the emission drops to 1.37 tons of CO2 per ton. Currently 7% of steel is manufactured this way,” El Periódico de la Energía explains in an article.


Electrification can account for 70% of total energy savings in the industrial sector, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), but one of the keys to the success of this process is the price of energy. French or German electro-intensive companies pay half as much, the Association of Companies with Large Energy Consumption has argued for months (AEGE includes 30 electro-intensive companies including steel, chemicals and industrial gas producers) despite the fact that in Spain the price of electricity electricity on the market is cheaper. In France (they pay 2.8 times less) due to the nuclear weight, but also to regulated tariffs and in Germany it is due to CO2 compensation.

Their energy consumption represents 50% of their production cost and they are the basic industry

The entity demands competitive prices for them, betting on digital infrastructures or compensation for the purchase of emission rights of up to 850 million (what is allowed by Europe). In 2022, they remember, the state collected more than 3.6 billion for these rights. The government has approved an aid package for industrial decarbonization of 11.8 billion euros and a few days ago President Sánchez stated in Parliament that the 80% reduction in electricity tolls has been extended and aid for compensation for carbon emissions has increased. carbon dioxide up to 300 million euros.

They ask for compensation of 850 million euros for the purchase of emission rights

«In 2023 the industry has continued to suffer the impact of the energy price crisis, a burden on its competitiveness reflected in an 8% drop in its electricity consumption. In the last two years this drop has reached 30%,” says AEGE, however. Raymond Torres, director of Situation of the economic and social research think tank Funcas, says: «It is important to electrify but we must keep in mind that cheap energy is needed. The key is investment to make decarbonization compatible with profitability. Decarbonization is feasible, but more time and a clear strategic industrial policy of where the industry is going are needed. The Next Generation is the embryo of this policy. However, in the end it is carried out in each country and that causes competition problems between states.

Recycle: the case of aluminum

The primary production of aluminum consumes a lot of energy, but if it is recycled, 95% of this energy and emissions can be saved, although ironically, at the moment, the smelting process cannot be overcome, which is the one that requires thermal energy. «First you need to extract the bauxite which is transformed into aluminum through an electrochemical process. When you recycle it you save emissions, because you skip that process,” explains Rovira.