February 20, 2023
Let’s Get Serious About Decarbonizing Industry: INDABA partnership launches with $1.5 million from NSF
By Sera Passerini
Energy Fellows Valerie Karplus and Paulina Jaramillo and Faculty Affiliates Chris Pistorius and Edson Severnini have been awarded a $1.5 million National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education grant to work with international collaborators to develop a major project on industrial decarbonization over the next three years.
With this grant, which started in January 2023, they will establish the Industrial Decarbonization Analysis, Benchmarking, and Action (INDABA) partnership. The term ‘indaba,’ borrowed from Zulu and Xhosa languages of South Africa, captures the goal of this project — ‘indaba’ means a discussion of an important matter within or between different communities. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the research team will characterize opportunities to accelerate industrial decarbonization in a way that is conscious of the possible impacts on communities around the world.
The primary focus of the project will be on the iron- and steelmaking industries but will also have implications for other industries, especially chemicals and cement. Iron and steelmaking contribute 7-9% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Academic collaborators include researchers at Tsinghua University in China, the Leibniz-Centre for European Economic Research and the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Countries represented are leading industrial producers in diverse world regions.
The INDABA team will tackle the challenges of industrial decarbonization with data, techno-economic, and policy analysis, with consideration of effects both on a regional and a global scale. Not only will this effort reveal the decarbonization potential and uncertainties associated with different technology combinations, but also inform decision makers on how their choices can achieve the greatest impact.
The project will create a database of production technologies and other attributes at the plant level, which is expected to be the most detailed, publicly-available compilation available. This database will initially focus on iron and steel plants but may later expand to chemicals and cement. Then, the team will characterize a range of low GHG technology options and simulate how policies and incentives may accelerate the deployment of these technologies on a global scale.
The project will also focus on the impacts of decarbonization strategies at the regional level. The group will develop and compare regional energy transition strategies and challenges, starting with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Dortmund, Germany. They will also work to understand and anticipate equity impacts of industrial decarbonization alongside techno-economic analysis of least-cost solutions.
"Building a common understanding of the challenges regions around the world face when decarbonizing industry is a first step to recognizing opportunities to collaborate on innovative research, demonstrations, and policy design," said Karplus, the project's principal investigator. "Through data development, analysis, and international exchange, the INDABA network will take that first step."
The INDABA project also plans to educate diverse audiences about the opportunities and challenges of industrial decarbonization. The team plans to host a project course on decarbonizing iron and steelmaking for CMU students, offer opportunities for research for undergraduate and graduate students, and present an interactive program for high school students from Pittsburgh and beyond to understand the abstract ideas of decarbonization and apply them in a simulation game.
The INDABA team will also engage multi-sector, multi-stakeholder partners, including community groups, nonprofits and think tanks, businesses, and governments, as they develop analysis and recommendations. These perspectives will illuminate possibilities for demonstrating and scaling decarbonization technologies as well as help to translate lessons across industries and geographies. The INDABA partnership is positioned to lay a foundation for a broader and more globally connected effort to advance solutions that will help industries and nations achieve their net zero GHG targets by midcentury.