Materials & Products

Our materials and products research has found that delivering net-zero in industry will require a combination of improved material resource efficiency, energy efficiency improvement and new zero-carbon industrial processes. Our research has found that, in the short term, materials efficiency has the greatest potential, with new processes contributing more towards 2050.

Energy demand reduction has a significant role to play in industrial decarbonisation

Our research has found that it is possible to reduce industrial energy demand in the UK by 24% by 2050 compared to 2020 levels. This will need to be part of a comprehensive strategy that also involves fuel switching and the development of new technologies to address key industrial processes. The majority of these changes come from variations in the way we use materials and products, with a more limited role for further energy efficiency in existing processes. From detailed system sectoral studies of food and steel, it is clear that that net-zero compatible industrial energy systems cannot be achieved without demand-side action.

Historically, a significant portion of UK industrial energy demand reduction has been achieved by outsourcing of manufacturing. However, this strategy does not reduce overall global Greenhouse Gas Emissions. There are also numerous benefits for the UK to maintain industrial capacity.

Our research concludes that energy demand needs to be prioritised in both public and policy discourse, but that may require effective and ‘positive’ framings of the value of ‘demand reduction’.

Benefits of demand reduction spill over beyond ‘energy’

Our research found that demand-side actions have spill over benefits beyond ‘energy’; In the nutrition scenarios, the main benefit of reducing levels of demand came from the associated reductions in non-energy emissions; in the steel sector, reducing demand results in emissions reductions from both energy and process emissions reductions.

There is a need for a far-reaching material consumption strategy

Our research has concluded that a comprehensive material consumption strategy is needed including improvements in production processes, use of secondary materials, lightweighting of products and innovative business models. It also needs to challenge existing material consumption patterns, where they are not circular.

The construction sector is the most important sector for resource efficiency improvement

The construction sector accounts for 50% of material use and relies on materials that currently have limited short-term production mitigation options, in particular steel and cement. It is therefore the most important sector for resource efficiency improvement. Energy demand reductions can be achieved through changing both planning laws and building regulation. Significant reductions could be achieved through the promotion of material efficiency in buildings and infrastructure.

Findings report

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