What Are Low-Carbon Fuels, Feedstocks, and Energy Sources?

The industrial sector has historically used fossil fuels as its primary energy source. Combustion of these carbon-dense materials leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Improving energy efficiency and decarbonizing American manufacturing involves sourcing energy from low-carbon fuels such as clean hydrogen or sustainable biofuels and using onsite energy sources, such as concentrated solar thermal and geothermal energy. Learn more about fuels and energy sources.

Feedstocks refer to material inputs to industrial processes needed to manufacture products. A large portion of the feedstocks used in manufacturing today are fossil fuels. For example, methane is used to produce hydrogen, a critical feedstock in petroleum refining and ammonia production. When the hydrogen from the methane (CH4) is extracted, the remaining carbon is typically emitted into the atmosphere. Potential sources of low-carbon feedstocks include clean hydrogen, bio-based feedstocks, and end-of-life materials like scrap steel and recycled plastics. Learn more about industrial feedstocks.

Why Is RD&D in Low-Carbon Fuels, Feedstocks, and Energy Sources Important?

Fossil fuels are the main onsite energy source in the manufacturing sector, according to the 2018 Manufacturing Energy and Carbon footprint analysis. Manufacturing processes that create industrial feedstocks like pig iron and hydrogen release greenhouse gases as well. Replacing traditional fuels and feedstocks with low-carbon alternatives at industrial facilities can significantly increase energy efficiency, lower costs, and reduce emissions.

Manufacturing products with lower embodied carbon emissions can help sharpen the competitive edge of American industry by lowering the Scope 3 emissions of American businesses. As consumers and businesses become increasingly concerned with the carbon footprint of their purchases, investments in lowering the costs of using low carbon fuels, feedstocks, and energy sources can help industry remain globally competitive and create good-paying jobs for American workers.

Moreover, fossil fuel combustion has long been linked to negative local impacts on respiratory and cardiovascular health, with a 2021 study finding that communities of color are disproportionately affected. Deriving energy from cleaner sources leads to a more just energy system, improving quality of life in low-income and minority communities.

IEDO Research in Low-Carbon Fuels, Feedstocks, and Energy Sources

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office (IEDO) projects develop technologies and components that can provide decarbonization solutions through:

  • Replacing or retrofitting fossil fuel-based equipment to accommodate low-carbon fuels for clean electricity or heat
  • Modifying existing combustion-based equipment and developing new equipment to incorporate renewable energy sources onsite for heat and power delivery
  • Developing industrial processes and materials that enable the use of low-carbon feedstocks such as biofuels and recycled materials in industrial processes.

Funding Opportunities

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