Feb 11 • 1HR 32M

Volts podcast: Rebecca Dell on decarbonizing heavy industry

Steel, cement, and chemicals are the toughest climate puzzle

David Roberts
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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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For most of the carbon-intensive sectors of the economy — electricity, transportation, buildings — we have a pretty good sense of how to eliminate carbon emissions. None of those sectors will be easy to decarbonize. Every one is an enormous practical challenge. But in each case, the basic path to zero is clear, and it mostly involves switching out fossil-fueled machines with machines that generate or run on clean electricity.

Then there’s that other wedge on the pie chart, the one that gets less attention: industry. Manufacturing, mining, construction, and waste processing are responsible for about a third of global carbon emissions (about a quarter of US emissions).

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The path to zero emissions in heavy industry is much murkier than it is for other sectors. Low-carbon alternatives are early in development and commercialization; in some cases, there are no alternatives except to capture and bury the carbon when it’s emitted.

In future pods, I might get deeper into some specific industries (like steel). But for this one, I wanted to attempt a broad overview: What You Need to Know About Decarbonizing Industry.

Rebecca Dell

Nobody knows the sector and its challenges better than Rebecca Dell, who runs the industry program at the ClimateWorks Foundation. Dell previously worked at the Department of Energy, where she helped coordinate Obama’s climate action plan, and before that was a research scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She’s a researcher, author, and, as more attention turns to industry, an increasingly frequent podcast guest. (She was on Canary’s Catalyst pod last month.)

It takes a while — okay, almost two hours — but Dell and I manage to cover all the big industrial sectors, why they emit so much, prospects for reducing emissions, and the policies that could make it happen. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shopping primer on industry and climate, this is for you.