Q&A Series #06: Interview with Mahdi Shakouri

GRT Q&A with Mahdi Shakouri: Industrial energy efficiency & decarbonization

About the guest

Mahdi Shakouri is an industrial energy efficiency advisor with a demonstrated history of working in the sustainable industrial development and he has the experience of work for/with international leading organizations such as UNIDO and UNDP. He has a PhD focused in “energy systems engineering – energy and environment” from the University of Tehran.

The topic of discussion: Industrial energy efficiency and decarbonization

Different industries produce energy and process-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. To reach net-zero by 2050, CO2 emissions must decline 3.5% year-on-year, on average. One pillar to cover this objective toward decarbonization is to accelerate the application of energy efficiency in industrial sectors. Energy efficiency includes measures related to reduced demand and efficiency improvements. Energy efficiency measures could be considered as part of structural changes and circular economy practices as well.

In this article, we learn more about industrial energy efficiency and decarbonization from Mahdi Shakouri, an Industrial Energy Efficiency Advisor who has worked for/with United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). 

Q1: What percentage share of industrial sector emissions contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions? 

The industry sector accounts for around 33% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2014 which was around 16700 million tone CO2 equivalent, and it can be categorized as: 1) direct energy related emissions, 2) industrial process emission and 3) indirect (electricity and heat) emission.

Q2: How much annual CO2 emissions abatement is required for the industrial sector to reach the 1.5 °C by 2050 as compared to the baseline? And what are the main components of carbon dioxide emissions abatement in the industrial sector as a whole?

Optimistically, the industrial sector should reduce its annual CO2 emissions to around 12 Gtons to reach the 1.5 °C by 2050 compared to the baseline (Latest report by IRENA, 2021). The main components to cover this target for the industrial sector include: 1) renewable energy, 2) energy conservation and energy efficiency, 3) electrification in the end-use sectors, 4) hydrogen, 5) carbon capture, sequestration and utilization, and 6) biomass energy integrated with carbon capture and sequestration.

Q3: Can you give us an example about the industrial decarbonization policies?

I would select UK as a good example to answer your question. UK has a roadmap to net zero industry and some sort of measures and actions have been considered within this roadmap. Combinations of different technologies and measures adopted by the UK can be addressed as follow:

  • Consider the implications of the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee to set targets for ore-based steelmaking to reach near-zero emissions by 2035.
  • Support increased resource efficiency and material substitution within industry, by driving the transition towards a circular economy model.
  • Improve energy efficiency through the adoption of technologies available in the market with low payback times.
  • Work with the cement sector to explore options to decarbonize sites.
  • Deployment of carbon capture and utilization on industrial sites.
  • Work to understand what is required to make sites retrofit-ready.
  • Increasing amounts of fuel switching to low carbon hydrogen.
  • Support the development of industrial digital technologies.
  • Low-regret fuel switching to electrification in industry.
  • Support sites to install energy management systems.
  • Improve heat recovery and reuse across sites.
  • Use of bioenergy in industry.

Q4: Can you tell us about the readiness level of technologies toward decarbonization?

The technology readiness level of every single technology can be evaluated using indicators that are named TRL. This can be also addressed for decarbonization technologies. TRLs can be defined from level 1 to 9 depending on the readiness of the technology from the “basic principles observed and reported” (level 1) to the “actual system proven through successful mission operations” (level 9).

When it comes to decarbonization technologies, the development and growth for some technologies are high enough to become commercial and popular. For instance, technologies such as “reducing the clinker content in the cement by using fly ash or blast furnace slag” in cement industry or “near net shape casting” in steel industry or “plastics recycling” in chemical process industry have reached to the TRL 9 level. More efforts are on the way and it is expected that by 2030 more decarbonization technologies will reach to the TRL 9 level.

Q5: What would be the role of standardization in energy efficiency and decarbonization? What has done so far in this regard?

International standardization organization together with other leading organizations such as UNIDO have proposed a framework for this process. The process started in 2011 with globally applicable standards which were called “energy management system” framework. Several industrial sectors have switched their management process to this framework. This international standard named ISO 50001 which can be used for certification as well. Around 70% of valid ISO 50001 certificates until 31 December 2019 (latest update by ISO, 2020) belong to the companies based in Germany, China, UK, Italy, France and India. Germany is by far the first ranked country in this field with over 5700 valid certificates and this can be considered as one of the main essential components of the energy transition plans in Germany.

Q6: What would be needed for a higher rate of engagement from the industrial sector in moving towards decarbonization?

Although models can have uncertainties, we should open our eyes and see the current and near future caused by climate change and there are impacts without any doubt. I think it is the responsibility of all of us to change the mindset. We don’t have enough time and today is too late. As far as my experience is concerned, for better engagement of the industrial sector we need to raise the awareness from one side and on the other side we need to work with different stakeholders. It is obvious that with more engagement of stakeholders, more success would be possible toward the transition. From another perspective, it is important to increase the technical capacity of the industrial sectors. When it comes to talking about the technical transition with the industrial experts, they would accept if they were happy with the technical and technological aspects. Thus, we need to increase their technical capacity via training programs. Also, it would be essential to consider benefits to the industries and increase their competitiveness through financial schemes to accelerate decarbonization.

Keith Nare

Technical Head of Communications for GRT, Keith leads GRT's content strategy across various platforms, whilst coordinating internally to build the voice and opinions of the GRT team. Keith is a product of Nelson Mandela University and his PhD work focuses on Polymer and Physical Chemistry. He was a Research Associate at SANRAL in South Africa and later spent time as a Visiting Research Associate to NTEC at the University of Nottingham in the UK. He is a former Director of Communications for CALROBO in the USA.

Keith is passionate and enthusiastic about health and safety, sustainability, networking and finding synergy through conversations.