The recent World Climate Summit—COP 24—in Poland has focused on the need to reduce greenhouse gases and discussed strategies to achieve climate targets. One of the possible ‘decarbonising’ options, i.e. reducing CO2 emissions, is a move to electrotechnical solutions. Copper is the material of choice for electrical applications, and for the transition to a sustainable supply. Electrical heating technologies such as induction, resistance, infrared, arc and high frequency as well as microwave heating are already available today. Although promising innovative technologies such as laser, electron beam and plasma arc heating are still in the development phase, they offer forward-looking approaches.
Electric heat technologies generate their heat directly in the target material and use micro-level electromagnetic phenomena. At this level, thermodynamics is no longer valid because it is about generating heat and not transmitting it. This makes electrical heating very efficient. Even some of the non-metallic materials, such as rubber and glass, can be heated more effectively by electric heating. About 85% of heat demand is still met by fossil fuels, so the electrification of heating is a very effective way to target the reduction of CO2 emissions. In comparison to conventional (fossil) heating, electric heating in industry reduces final energy demand by a factor of 1.5 to 8.
Currently, fossil fuel generated energy consumption in EU industry is around 150 Mtoe / year. In a study commissioned by the European Copper Institute with EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute), the electrification potential of six electric heating technologies has been estimated at about one third of the industry’s fossil energy consumption. This represents a potential fossil fuel saving of 51 Mtoe / year. Taking into account improvements in end-use efficiency, a fuel switchover would lead to a new electricity requirement of 252 TWh / year. According to the study, in a fully decarbonised electricity system, such electrification will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 107 million tonnes of CO2.
Combined generation of electricity and heat
Another path to greener energy is through the use of combined heat and power (CHP) or co-generation, i.e. the simultaneous generation of electricity and heat. Cogeneration is the most effective and efficient form of electricity generation. In conventional power plants, heat is not recovered in power generation, while in CHP plants, heat is used effectively to provide space heating, hot water or services. In CHP plants, the ‘waste’ heat can also be used to, for example, provide high temperature heat and steam, such as those needed for chemical processes.
There are also systems that can produce not only heat and electricity, but also cooling (so-called tri-generation). Heating and cooling accounts for about half of energy consumption in the EU. Therefore, it is important to save energy in these sectors by increasing energy efficiency. Here, the high electrical conductivity of copper plays an important role, because higher electrical conductivity means higher energy efficiency or—with the same efficiency—more compact component design.
Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
Using one extra kilogram of copper in a single device (such as a generator, transformer, or motor) will reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 100 to 7,500 kilograms over their lifetime, depending on the application. Copper is also a highly sustainable material that can be fully recycled, without loss of performance, and offers life cycle benefits such as durability, safety, reliability, mechanical strength and corrosion resistance.
Due to their enormous energy consumption and the required processing of materials, the copper industry faces its own challenges: substances are melted, combined or chemically transformed. The superfluous generation of heat from electricity, can now prove to be economical and environmentally friendly.
As far as energy supply is concerned, the European electricity sector is committed to full decarbonisation by 2050. The focus of this, and other EU initiatives, is on more efficient generation and use of energy, as it represents the largest part of the potential for decarbonisation in Europe. In the latter regard, the European copper industry has shown great commitment and has reduced its own energy use by 60% since 1990.
Lessons Learned From COP24—thoughts of Bernard Respaut, CEO of European Copper Institute
Opportunities for electrification of industry in the European Union—by Hans De Keulenaer, European Copper Institute, Edwin Haesen, Ecofys – a Navigant company and Baskar Vairamohan, EPRI