What are Energy- and Emissions-Intensive Industries?

Energy- and emissions-intensive industries use a relatively high amount of energy in their industrial processes. In 2018, the industrial subsectors with the highest concentration of energy use and carbon emissions included chemicals, iron and steel, food and beverages, cement and concrete, and forest products, and accounted for nearly 80% of manufacturing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and primary energy use.

Many of these industries utilize specific, hard-to-decarbonize industrial processes that make full decarbonization more difficult than developing a clean source of electricity or heat. At the same time, these industries are indispensable, mass-producing the materials and products essential to modern life while also serving as the engines of our economy. 

Innovations in industry-specific technologies for these subsectors have the greatest potential to increase efficiency, strengthen the manufacturing workforce, and reduce emissions.

Why is RD&D of Energy- and Emissions-Intensive Industries important?

Decarbonization challenges are unique to each subsector, requiring tailored research, development and demonstration (RD&D) to drive the innovation and adoption of manufacturing processes needed to reach GHG emissions targets. 

Emissions from industrial subsectors derive from two sources: energy use and industrial processes. Energy use emissions are created when we generate the electrical, thermal, or mechanical energy facilities need to run, often for industry-specific industrial processes. Process emissions occur as a direct byproduct of specific chemical transformations. For example, CO2 is released when carbon is added to iron to remove oxygen and make steel.

Innovations in sector-specific emissions reductions can also help manufacturers lower scope 3 emissions. These are emissions derived from the production of materials used as inputs and the emissions that result from the use of the product. Scope 3 emissions are considered and minimized where possible to improve sustainability.

Research Topics


Converting between chemical building blocks to create consumer and industrial products, such as fuels, polymers, and paints, is incredibly energy intensive. This energy demand has historically been satisfied by fossil fuel combustion releasing greenhouse gases and wasting primary energy input. Technologies like advanced reactors and separations, industrial electrification, and low carbon process heating, increase energy efficiency and put the United States chemicals sector on a path to net zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Decarbonizing energy, however, is not enough. For example, GHG emissions are released when natural gas and petroleum feedstocks are sourced and converted to chemical products. Technologies that utilize and convert sustainable feedstocks into fuels and chemical products like biomass (e.g. Municipal Solid Waste, starch, and lignin), CO₂, recycled materials, renewable natural gas, and H₂ will be needed to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050. Learn more.

Iron and Steel

Steelmaking is energy- and emissions-intensive, requiring high process temperatures and a source of carbon to drive reactions. Generating heat and the chemical reactions that occur during steelmaking processes both produce significant emissions.

Traditional steel furnaces burn fossil fuels to reach the temperatures needed to smelt raw iron and carbon into steel. Process emissions are created when carbon is used to remove oxygen from iron ore, “reducing” it to pig iron, the key feedstock in the steel industry. Electric arc furnaces (EAFs) can utilize recycled steel scrap, foregoing many of the process emissions associated with reducing iron ore and smelting new steel and can rely on renewable sources of electricity to eliminate energy use emissions. Learn more.

Cement and Concrete

Cement is the “glue” that holds together concrete which is a mixture of sand, aggregate, water, and cement.  Modern civilization is made possible because of concrete, an indispensable material that is the most used substance on earth.

Ninety percent of emissions from cement making are from the kiln where limestone and silica (shale and sand) are heated to high temperatures (~1450°C) to chemically create the material called “clinker” used to make cement.  Sixty percent of the onsite emissions associated with this step come from the chemical decomposition of limestone (CaCO3 --> CaO + CO2) in the kiln with the rest from the combustion of fossil fuels to reach the high temperatures required for the process. Learn more.

Forest Products

The U.S. forest products industry uses a variety of industrial heating processes, including wood cooking, bleaching, liquor evaporation, pulp preparation, and paper drying to turn wood and recycled paper into everything from cardboard to envelopes to building frames. The industry consumes 15% of energy in the U.S. manufacturing sector yet is only responsible for 8% of energy-related emissions, the majority of which is from process heating. This is because over half of energy demand is met by using carbon-neutral bio-based materials which would otherwise be discarded such as bark, sawdust, and black liquor.

Opportunities to reduce net energy GHG emissions to zero include: using more renewable energy, electrification, carbon capture, and reducing energy use. Learn more.

Food and Beverage Products

The food and beverage subsector covers over 30,000 facilities across the country, utilizing a wide range of industrial operations to transform raw agricultural goods into food products. Some foods are preserved through industrial drying, others require refrigeration or freezing while being packaged and shipped to retail distributors. Some products are baked in giant industrial-scale ovens, fed by fossil fuels, while other foods are cooked with steam.

Facilities range in size from capital-intensive red meat processing facilities which employ hundreds and ship all over the country to family-owned bakeries with a handful of workers that serve a single metropolitan area. The diversity of manufacturing processes and size of operations leads to a wide array of commercially viable decarbonization pathways and opportunities for industry-specific RD&D to drive needed innovations. Learn more.

What are IEDO's Goals?

IEDO supports RD&D of technologies that will set the American industrial sector on a path to net zero emissions by 2050. Specifically, IEDO supports activities that drive innovation and develop and demonstrate the commercial readiness of industry-specific technologies with the potential to decrease emissions intensity by at least 40% if implemented across the entire subsector, with specific targets set sector by sector.

The research goals identified in IEDO’s funding opportunities are informed by the 2022 DOE Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap. Goals are established through ongoing dialogue with industrial, academic, national lab, and interagency stakeholders and underpinned by IEDO’s strategic analysis.

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