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Plan to make Flemish industry carbon neutral by 2050

07:39 16/11/2020
From Flanders Today

Industry in Flanders must start changing now if it is to meet the challenges of the climate crisis, according to Hilde Crevits, minster for innovation and economy in the Flemish government. Her comments follow the publication of a report on the steps needed to make Flemish industry carbon neutral by 2050.

“It is closer than we might think,” she said, “and steel, chemicals and refining are all sectors where investments in infrastructure are often made for 30 years or more.”

Since these sectors provide 12% of the jobs in Flanders, prompt action is necessary for economic as well as environmental reasons, she went on. But there is also a prize to be won.

“If Flanders takes a pioneering approach towards climate neutrality, it can attract the economic activities that go with it. New companies will find their way to Flanders thanks to its climate-friendly technologies, reliable basic infrastructure and cross-sector clusters.”

The report, put together for the government by consulting company Deloitte, pays special attention to the steel, chemical and sand refining sectors, because they are responsible for 90% of the region’s industrial greenhouse emissions, and 30% of its total greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet these sectors cannot simply be phased out. Their products will still be needed in 2050, and many will be essential in making the move to carbon neutrality: Think of the steel needed to build wind turbines or the plastics that insulate buildings.

So the report considers how these industries might change, assuming the necessary technological developments fall into place.

Refineries, for example, will have to start working with alternative raw materials, such as waste plastics or oil from plants. They will also have to think about new products, moving away from fuels for road transport and instead making aviation and shipping fuels, or chemical feedstocks.

Meanwhile the steel sector should start to use waste wood and hydrogen instead of coke to operate its furnaces. And the carbon-based gases that are still produced could then be converted into ethanol, for use as a fuel or as a raw material in the chemicals industry.

Capturing carbon in this way, then either storing it or converting it into new products, is expected to play an important part in Flanders’ strategy for 2050. It will also be vital to generate more renewable energy, more efficiently, since avoiding carbon dioxide often requires extra energy.

The study is part of the Flemish government’s “moonshot” innovation programme. This will invest €20 million each year in basic research on new technologies that can be applied on an industrial scale by 2050.

Image ©Ruslana Velychko/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)