Electrification in the process industry has potential that requires development


The Dutch industry can make a significant contribution to the climate goals of the Paris Agreement through electrification of its processes. This requires system and process innovation. In this respect, it is useful to make a distinction between different electrification strategies. This is shown in a report carried out by Berenschot, CE Delft, Industrial Energy Experts and Energy Matters, requested by RVO in cooperation with TKI Industry & Energy.

The Dutch process industry accounts for approximately 46% of total energy use in the Netherlands and is therefore an important player in the energy transition. Electrification of the process industry is one of the possible transition pathways to contribute to a sustainable energy supply, assuming that complete sustainable or CO2-neutral electricity will become available in the future. To make optimal use of this transition pathway, system and process innovations are necessary. This could include the further development of high temperature heat pumps, the establishment of new business models and market roles for ESCOs (for services), the adjustment of tariff structures and more room and support for experimentation.

The study of Berenschot, CE Delft, Industrial Energy Experts and Energy Matters distinguishes two strategies for electrification: flexible electrification and baseload electrification. Some of the identified technologies are suitable for flexible electrification, whereas other technologies are more suited for baseload electrification. For flexible electrification, the extent of fluctuations in the electricity price, the volatility, is relevant, whereas for baseload electrification, the Coefficient of Performance (COP) of technologies is of importance. In addition, two application areas have been identified: electrification in utilities and electrification in core processes or primary process streams. With respect to the electrification of utility processes the involvement of ESCOs has a lot of potential (for example by delivering steam or hot water instead of electricity or gas).

Against this background the consortium drew up an overview of electrification categories and promising electrification technologies on the short, medium and long-term. On the short term power-to-heat shows a high potential and a wide range of technologies, applications and parties involved. Examples of technologies are high temperature heat pumps, steam recompression and mechanical vapour recompression. The following categories are promising on the longer term. More research into technical options is necessary here. Power-to-hydrogen, especially electrolysis, shows a high potential on the longer term for both flexible and baseload electrification. At the moment, this option is not yet economically feasible for large-scale application. The potential of power-to-gas might become interesting on the longer term. Power-to-chemicals has a high potential, showing a wide variety of options and initiatives. However, this electrification category still finds itself in a starting phase. Power-to-mechanical drive and power-to-separation show a limited potential.

The study does not make any statements about the optimal combination of transition pathways. Alongside electrification these include geothermal energy, biomass and CC(U)S. The study does make recommendations for the development of industrial electrification as a transition pathway, involving a broad range of development needs. When these developments are acted upon in the short term the Netherlands might occupy a distinctive innovation position in the area of industrial electrification.

Download the report here.