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Innovations to decarbonize materials industries

Abstract

Materials science has had a key role in lowering CO2 emissions from the electricity sector through the development of technologies for renewable energy generation and high-performance energy storage. However, outside of the energy sector, there remain considerable greenhouse gas emissions linked to materials production, particularly due to growth in the built environment infrastructure, transportation and chemicals manufacture. This Review focuses on the challenge of reducing the emissions impact of materials production. We assess the potential for decarbonization in the cement, metals (including steel and aluminium) and chemicals manufacturing industries, including the potential to reduce emissions from the inputs to the production and the transformation processes, as well as through the design of desired outputs. We also address underexplored research areas and outline opportunities for the materials community to reduce emissions by leveraging innovations along length scales from atoms to materials markets.

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Fig. 1: Length-scale considerations in the decarbonization of cement, steel and petrochemicals.
Fig. 2: Estimating the decarbonization potential of materials production technologies.
Fig. 3: Mass flow dynamics and technical practice behind metal recycling from end-of-life vehicles.
Fig. 4: Challenges in producing bio-based plastics.
Fig. 5: Electrification of materials production.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the support of students within MIT subject 3.081/3.560, Industrial Ecology of Materials, for their contributions.

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E.A.O. and K.D. discussed the content of the article. K.D., R.B. and J.G. researched data for the article. All authors contributed to the writing of the article, and K.D., J.G., V.S. and E.A.O. edited the manuscript prior to submission.

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Daehn, K., Basuhi, R., Gregory, J. et al. Innovations to decarbonize materials industries. Nat Rev Mater (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-021-00376-y

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