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Techno-economic potential of flexible industrial processes in the context of the energy transition: Case study for a process chain of metals industry

Panel: 1. Processes and technologies to meet future challenges

Christian Schwotzer, RWTH Aachen University, Department for Industrial Furnaces and Heat Engineering, Germany
Felix Kaiser, RWTH Aachen University, Department for Industrial Furnaces and Heat Engineering, Germany
Herbert Pfeifer, RWTH Aachen University, Department for Industrial Furnaces and Heat Engineering, Germany


Energy-intensive industries such as steel, glass, ceramics and non-ferrous metallurgy, in which energy-related greenhouse gas emissions as well as process emissions play a role, are facing a variety of challenges and risks as a result of the energy transition and the associated increase in the use of renewable energies. New technologies in the energy sector such as smart grids, virtual power plants and demand-side management, as well as climate protection policy targets relating to pollutant emissions and the use of fossil fuels, are changing the energy market. This makes investment decisions in energy-intensive thermal process technology systems increasingly difficult.

For a successful energy transition and decarbonization of industrial processes, thermal engineering systems and production chains must be designed for operation with electricity from renewable energies or other low-CO2 energy sources that will be available in the future. Due to the expansion of renewable energy sources, an increasing fluctuation in the price and availability of green energy sources is to be expected. For thermal process plants and industrial furnaces, this requires a rethink of conventional heating concepts with regard to the possibilities of low-CO2 process heat generation in a changing energy system and the flexibility of industrial processes and process chains. At the same time, however, energy and system availability, product quality and cost-effectiveness must be guaranteed.

As part of a multi-dimensional parameter study, this article describes the potential of industrial processes for flexible energy use and demand side management, taking into account technical, ecological and economic aspects using the example of a generic process chain from the metal industry. In this case study a simplified process chain of the aluminium production with the focus on the energy-intensive processes of melting and homogenization is taken as an example. The heating technologies, discussed in this article include state of the art heating concepts, as well as future low carbon heating solutions focus on electric and hydrogen heating concepts for decarbonization of energy intensive processes. Especially energy costs are the focus of the considerations. The possibilities of making energy use in industrial processes more flexible are examined and developments in the energy system are taken into account. Of central importance is the question of the economics of flexible industrial processes in energy intensive production facilities. Within a scenario analysis the potential and sensitivity of this example will be discussed. The results show that there are technical limits for flexible industrial processes and process chains on the one hand side and on the other hand side business cases strongly depend on the prices for green energy. The natural gas case has the lowest energy costs compared to the other cases of electrification and hydrogen heating. Optimization of the process can decrease energy costs up to 15% in the scenario with high volatility in energy prices. Regarding sensitivity the economic potential of the heating alternatives for decarbonisation strongly depends on the natural gas price. The results are a first step towards detailed quantification. To specify results, more technology and market data will be added in future studies.


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