Event report: “Will tomorrow’s industry be aligned with the climate emergency? (16 March 2022, Hôtel de l’Industrie)

On 16 February, Leonard, VALGO, Energy Observer Foundation, OPEO Conseil and the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale started a series of conferences on the theme of territories as actors in the low-carbon industry of tomorrow.

The second meeting in this series was held on 16 March and focused on the industrial sector’s strategy in the face of the climate emergency: consumption patterns, energy efficiency, decarbonisation, circular economy, what are the main innovation levers for an industrial production compatible with the planetary limits?

Moderated by Grégory Richa, Associate Director of OPEO Conseil, the conference brought together Fabrice Boissier, Deputy Director General of ADEME, Bruno Nicolas, Director of the Actemium brand (VINCI Energies group), Clara Mouysset, Impact Investment Director Private Equity at Tikehau Capital, and Stéphane Rutkowski, Managing Director of Circulère, Vicat’s circular economy subsidiary.

Industry is regularly singled out as a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Faced with their responsibility for the acceleration of ecological degradation, more and more manufacturers are undertaking major programmes that go beyond the borders of their production sites. This is because the issue calls for the entire industrial value chain to be taken into account, from the upstream phases (extraction of resources) to the downstream stages (end of life and recycling), including the central activities at the heart of the factory and the various subcontracting, transport and distribution links. Moreover, the climate issue involves multiple dimensions: behaviour, technological innovations, implementation of cooperation and synergies, financing models, etc.

For Fabrice Boissier, the climate emergency confronts industrialists, like all stakeholders in society, with choices. Ademe has imagined four typical scenarios for metropolitan France, all leading to the country’s carbon neutrality, but inspired by different social choices. There is no miracle solution, insisted ADEME’s deputy director general, but there are societal choices to be made, in which industry plays a different role: lowering demand in scenarios 1 and 2, seeking complete decarbonisation of supply in scenarios 3 and 4. Where should we place the cursor between energy sobriety and efficiency? Do we want to bet on our future capacity to repair or immediately engage in a strategy of frugality? The various decarbonisation scenarios should be submitted to democratic debate in order to make informed decisions in consultation, and to plan transformations by involving the State, territories, economic players and citizens.

Bruno Nicolas was keen to point out that although industry is responsible for a significant proportion of the extraction of natural resources and GHG emissions, it also offers solutions. He also insisted on the need to make choices. Mentioning the commitment of the 400 companies of the Actemium brand (Vinci Energies group) to sustainable innovation, he notably defended the use of hydrogen to produce energy that does not release carbon dioxide. While today hydrogen, which is mainly produced by steam reforming natural gas, emits as much CO2 as the air transport sector, industry can, according to Bruno Nicolas, take a gamble on green hydrogen, by relying on processes such as water electrolysis. Although they are still subject to an economic model that has yet to be defined (costs, storage problems, etc.), these promises of low-carbon hydrogen will be all the more interesting if they are envisaged within a logic of effacement, by organising the capacity of industries to reduce their energy consumption each time the global network requires it.

Stéphane Rutkowski, for his part, testified to the cement industry’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions, particularly through the circular economy. Cement production still accounts for 5% of global GHG emissions, he said, adding that it takes the equivalent of 100 kilos of coal to produce one tonne of cement. This is why the Vicat group has committed to producing fossil-free cement by 2025. According to Circulère’s managing director, this goal has already been achieved by two-thirds. This strategy includes the use of energy from waste (wood from rubbish tips, used tyres, meat and bone meal, etc.).

Clara Mouysset, from Tikehau Capital, reminds us that if we want to reach the objectives of the National Low-Carbon Strategy in 2050, we will have to return to the level of emissions of the 1970s by 2030. This would mean cancelling out the effects of the growth of the last 50 years in the space of 3,000 days. This observation, in her opinion, calls for massive and immediate investment in the development of existing technologies (heat recovery, improvement of industrial energy efficiency, accelerated electrification of industry), with results that are both convincing and rapid. The financial tools exist and are increasingly adapted to a 360° measurement of externalities.

Industry must undergo a profound transformation to adapt to changing demand and to decarbonise its production. Whatever choices are made as a priority, they must above all be coherent. This will require large-scale investment plans and an effort by the whole of society to support the territories undergoing change and to train employees in the new professions.

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