Some of the biggest U.S. manufacturers want to ramp up attention, investment, and support for cutting carbon from heating and cooling, which they say is critical to meeting their climate and clean energy targets.
Nearly a dozen major manufacturing companies—including the Chemours Co., Cargill, Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Co.—are outlining a set of principles to help prompt a market for renewable thermal solutions. They aim to reduce greenhouse gases from heating and cooling, a major source of emissions from the industrial and building sectors.
The companies, along with the city of Philadelphia and the University of Maryland, are part of the Renewable Thermal Collaborative and introduced the Buyers’ Principles March 20 at the Climate Leadership Conference in Baltimore.
Energy used for heating and cooling contributes around 39 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the collaborative.
But there isn’t an immediate, scalable renewable thermal energy solution for the problem, as there is with renewable electricity options such as wind and solar, Peter Dahm, sustainability director of operations and natural resources for Cargill, told Bloomberg Environment.
“Renewable thermal energy solutions are very site-specific and location-dependent,” he said.
For example, he said Cargill, a large agricultural producer based in Minnesota, burns different types of biomass in its facilities based on what is available, such as burning cocoa shells for heat energy at a cocoa plant. But the company can’t use that same heat source at every one of its manufacturing plants, he said.
Renewable thermal energy can include any number of technologies that produce carbon-neutral heating and cooling, including biomass and biogas, renewable natural gas, waste-to-energy, and solar thermal energy.
Companies in the manufacturing space, as well as cities that manage builidings and facilities, have to be thinking about this as they work to meet their carbon targets, David Gardiner, president of the climate and clean energy consulting firm David Gardiner and Associates, said at the conference.
The firm helps convene the Renewable Thermal Collaborative, along with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the World Wildlife Fund.
The Climate Leadership Conference’s headline sponsor is Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Environment is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.
Mars Inc., another member of the Renewable Thermal Collaborative, set a science-based greenhouse gas target to have 100 percent fossil-free energy consumption by 2040.
When the company set that target in 2008, about half of its energy-related carbon emissions came from electricity and half from thermal energy, Kevin Rabinovitch, Mars’ global vice president of sustainability, said at the climate conference.
Mars has significantly cut its emissions by purchasing wind, solar, and other carbon-neutral sources of electricity, but it hasn’t made much progress on thermal, and that could pose a challenge as it works to meet its climate goals, he added.
“We can stay on the path for a few more years, but pretty soon if we don’t have a solution for thermal, we fall off our target pathway,” Rabinovitch said.
Call for Innovation
A wide-reaching renewable thermal technology isn’t available yet, and that’s part of what the companies and entities in the collaborative are hoping to address.
“It’s a tougher nut to crack, as well. It’s a little more difficult to come up with a suite of solutions,” Dahm said. About 80 percent of the Cargill’s energy use is thermal, which accounts for 60 percent of the company’s emissions, he said.
Part of the Buyers’ Principles is to send a market signal and call for innovation to find that renewable thermal technology that is scalable.
“The more entities that step forward to say this is important, the more urgency the marketplace will show in coming up with solutions,” Dahm said.
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