What Are Cross-Sector Technologies?

A significant number of energy and emissions reduction challenges are common across all industrial subsectors. For example, all industrial subsectors involve heating processes that have conventionally required fossil fuel combustion, leading to significant direct greenhouse gas emissions, as well as wasted heat lost to the environment. Similarly, nearly all industrial operations consume water and produce wastewater. Innovations in energy and water use represent significant opportunities to lower emissions and reduce manufacturing costs across the industrial sector.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office (IEDO) supports several research topics, based on the 2022 DOE Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap, where research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) can lead to energy and emissions reductions in both the short- and long-term across all industrial sectors. Research topics include decarbonization of process heating, low-carbon fuels and feedstocks, water and energy, and energy efficiency.  

Why Is RD&D of Cross-Sector Technologies Important?

RD&D of cross-cutting topics such as decarbonization of process heating, use of low carbon fuels, feedstocks, and energy sources, and energy efficiency creates opportunities to unlock energy savings and reduce emissions in many industrial sectors.

Each of these topics has the potential to provide significant scope for greenhouse gas emission reductions, improvements in energy use across all industrial subsectors, and deliver near-term and future reductions as technologies develop and the greenhouse gas intensity of the electrical grid decreases.

Research Topics

Process heating represents the largest energy use and the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing sector, accounting for about 1/3 of energy use and 51% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.

Direct energy use for process heating in the manufacturing sector includes fuel combustion (66%), steam (30%), and electricity (4%). When the fuel used to generate steam and electricity is considered, at least 90% of energy used for process heat is derived from combustion, including both fossil fuels and waste/byproduct fuels. Learn more.

Fossil fuels have historically been the primary energy source for industry – providing over 90% of energy used for process heating. Existing equipment can be upgraded or replaced to burn zero- and low-carbon fuels like hydrogen and biofuels. However, most zero- and low-carbon alternatives are not yet cost competitive to fossil fuels. Moreover, the production of these alternatives often releases greenhouse gas emissions.

Feedstocks are the materials that are put into an industrial process and converted to a higher value product. Some sectors use carbon-rich materials such as natural gas as an industrial feedstock, releasing CO2 from combustion and/or from non-energy-related process emissions. Other sectors use feedstocks that require significant amounts of energy to produce. Developing technologies that can use feedstocks that either don’t directly produce emissions, or require less energy to produce offers a way to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency. Learn more.

Water-related greenhouse gas emissions come from two sources: energy consumed by the processes involved in purifying water and wastewater and as a byproduct during wastewater treatment.

Water systems consume energy to pump water from aquifers, desalinate groundwater, process sludge during wastewater treatment, and distribute water. Nontraditional water sources have more impurities that must be removed before they’re fit for use, requiring more energy than traditional sources such as groundwater and surface water. RD&D into energy efficient water and wastewater management can help expand access water resources. Learn more.

The 2022 Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap identified energy efficiency as a key pillar of industrial decarbonization. Out of the 14 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of onsite energy generated in the manufacturing sector in 2018, 7 were never used in industrial processes. Technologies to cost-effectively recover, store, and/or use waste heat can help industry operate more efficiently. While energy losses cannot be brought to zero, limiting losses and reducing final energy demand are important pathways to decarbonize manufacturing and reduce costs. Learn more.

What Are IEDO's Goals?

The Cross-Sector Technologies subprogram invests in applied R&D and pilot-scale demonstrations to identify and advance the next generation of industrial technologies to provide, transform, and store energy. Key goals include:

  • Transforming electricity into useful industrial heat cost competitively
  • Developing combustion systems that enable fuel switching to hydrogen and other low-carbon fuels
  • Reducing barriers to the adoption of intermittent sources of clean electricity
  • Improving the energy efficiency of industrial processes, and
  • Reducing the energy used for industrial water and wastewater treatment.

Cross-sector approaches include RD&D on components, equipment, systems, and technologies with applications in multiple industrial sectors, and the integration of technology in industry-specific conditions. Topics include:

  • Boosting energy use efficiency and performance, delivery of clean heat for diverse applications
  • Low- and no-carbon fuel use, novel ways to process materials without heat
  • Waste heat recovery and use
  • Thermal energy storage, and
  • Resource recovery and use from water treatment.

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