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Using software to cut energy and emissions in the steel, chemical and cement industries

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In the conversation on industrial decarbonization, steel, chemicals and cement are known as “hard-to-abate” sectors: industries whose fossil-fuel needs are both huge and tightly interwoven with their feedstocks and processes. How can energy intelligence software help them on the path to Net Zero 2050?

Electrifying industry

In the steel, chemical and cement industries, one critical stepping stone on the path to zero carbon emissions is electrification: replacing fossil-fuel-based elements of production with alternatives based on sustainably sourced electricity. There are two major places where electrification can reduce carbon emissions in heavy industry: generating high-temperature heat and running production processes.

For example, in the steel industry nearly all emissions arise from producing the heat energy to melt steel and drive its processing, and reducing iron ore to iron. Electric arc furnaces can replace coal or coke furnaces, and hydrogen produced by electrolysis (instead of steam methane reforming) can replace natural gas in the reduction process. In the chemical industry, electricity becomes the fuel driving hydrogen creation and energy-intensive processes such as gasification and steam cracking. And in the cement industry, the entire production process becomes electrified, including the energy-intensive high-heat kilns at the start of the process.



Paying the price

But changing fundamental processes to run on electricity requires major investments. And as electricity becomes the dominant fuel for heating and production, the cost of making steel, chemicals and cement will be directly tied to the cost of zero-carbon electricity, making every megawatt you can save important. Modern energy intelligence software can help on both fronts, so these industries can electrify in the smartest, most cost-effective way possible.

Three ways energy intelligence software helps keep the price down

  1. By benchmarking the current performance of your machines and operations, to expose the key drivers of energy inefficiency. This helps you see where energy consumption can be optimized, such as equipment upgrades, process modifications, or operational adjustments. By understanding your current performance levels and identifying inefficiencies, you can take targeted action to reduce energy consumption and associated costs.
  2. By simulating the return from high-CAPEX investments, to help you choose the most effective solutions for the long term. Electrification often requires significant capital investments, especially when replacing existing machinery or infrastructure with electric alternatives. Energy intelligence software can use your actual data to project the return on investment from high capital expenditure projects, taking into account factors such as energy savings, operational efficiencies, and equipment lifespan. This enables you to evaluate the business case for different options, compare potential outcomes, and make informed decisions about where to allocate your resources for maximum impact.
  3. By tracking realized savings over time, to inform future decisions based on actual improvements. A business case is one thing; actual results are another. Energy intelligence software can assess the true impact of your initiatives on energy consumption and cost reduction. This information serves as a valuable feedback loop, enabling your organization to understand the effectiveness of its energy-saving efforts. By comparing actual improvements against initial projections, you can refine your strategy, make data-driven decisions, and identify areas for further optimization.

RELATED READING: Spend less on energy: Use data-driven machine & process insights to lower your energy bill (and reach Net Zero)

A case study from the chemical industry

Two neutralization waste pumps ran simultaneously in the same process. From the data, the energy intelligence software determined that Pump 1 contributed most of the flow; Pump 2 ran at a very low flow and experienced high operational energy losses. This type of operation was not only energy inefficient; it also triggered multiple cavitation events for both pumps (detected by the asset health monitoring system installed on the pumps). Over time, this cavitation would wear out the pumps faster, making them even less efficient and ultimately causing premature breakdown.

Using historical data plotted against the pumps’ performance curves, the energy intelligence system determined that the flow never exceeded the acceptable range for a single pump. The system recommended that the pump owner alter the operational profile to run only one pump at a time, enabling the second only if the flow went above the upper threshold.

After the pump owner implemented the change, the energy intelligence system confirmed a fivefold increase in the pumping station’s efficiency, from 9.6% to 43.4%. This single initiative on just two pumps is saving the pump owner 39 MWh of electricity and 17 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year.

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average energy efficiency and losses 7
Two charts generated by the energy intelligence system: efficiency losses in the original situation, with both pumps operating (above), and after changing to just one pump operating (below).

average energy efficiency and losses 4

RELATED READING: Immediate energy savings: Four quick ways to cut pump energy costs using real-time data

Adopt energy intelligence software sooner rather than later

Many of the technologies required to electrify the steel, chemical and cement industries are still under development — but you should start investigating energy intelligence software now. Many of your pumps, rolls and other machines already run on electricity, and it’s good sense to optimize those regardless. You’ll start saving money right away — and emissions, too, if your source of electricity isn’t fully zero-carbon yet. And by starting early, you’ll be gathering valuable energy intel on your existing equipment and processes, so you can model future high-CAPEX investments using your own, actual data.

What’s more, by adopting these tools now you’ll have the time to trial different platforms and vendors and pick one or more systems for the long term. Quick tip: look for tools that provide asset- and process-specific insights that are relevant for you, and that integrate with your existing data and systems. We wish you great success on the road to Net Zero!

REFERENCES

  1. Industrial Transformation 2050 – Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions from EU Heavy Industry by Material Economics (2019).
  2. Technological Energy Efficiency Improvements in Cement Industries by Cantini et al. (2021).
  3. The four-horse race to decarbonise steel by Oliver Gordon at Energy Monitor (2023).
  4. Electrification of the chemical industry – materials innovations for a lower carbon future by Eryazici et al. (2022).

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