5 Decarbonization Examples Explained

Decarbonization examples are; power generation-based, transport, manufacturing, low-carbon waste management, and energy-production decarbonization.

This article discusses the examples of decarbonization, as follows;



1). Power Sector Decarbonization (as one of the Decarbonization Examples)

Decarbonization of the power sector involves all efforts to reduce the carbon intensity of electricity generation.

This could be measured in terms of carbon emissions per unit of electricity that is generated by power plants or electric generators [6].

There are multiple decarbonization strategies that can be applied successfully in the power sector.

One of these is decarbonization by active carbon capture.

Absorption equipment or scrubbers can be installed in exhaust outlets of electricity generation facilities, to isolate or capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the exhaust gas streams [3]. This CO2 can either be stored (as in carbon capture and storage; CCS), or utilized for industrial purposes (as in carbon capture and utilization; CCU, CCUS).

Decarbonization can also be achieved through fuel substitution.

This is a relatively effective approach because it addresses the problem of greenhouse emission from its root.

In place of unsustainable energy resources that are high in carbon content, sustainable/renewable energy resources like solar, wind, geothermal and wave power can be used.

This is also referred to as the ‘energy transition‘ and is accompanied by changes in technology from conventional fossil fuel-based systems to solar panels, wind turbines (or large-scale wind farms), and wave power converters, among others.

In some cases, nuclear power plants can serve as an alternative, especially in cases where the nuclear energy/fuel extraction process has been decarbonized.

Aside the introduction of renewable technologies and alternative ways to generate electricity, other technological modifications of conventional systems can help decarbonize the process of power generation.

Such modifications must be geared toward improved energy recovery and energy efficiency. The development of fuel-efficient combustion engines is an example.

Beyond electricity generation, it is possible to achieve or facilitate decarbonization from the point of electricity consumption.

Practices of energy conservation such as regulation of appliance usage, and the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with LED lights, are two instances [2].

Reducing the amount of waste energy that is lost to the environment is yet another way to reduce the amount of fuel that is burnt, and therefore the amount of carbon emitted. Cogeneration systems, among others, can be used to achieve this.

Decarbonization Examples: Power Sector Decarbonization (Credit: Kenueone 2016 .CC0 1.0.)
Decarbonization Examples: Power Sector Decarbonization (Credit: Kenueone 2016 .CC0 1.0.)


2). Transport Decarbonization

The transport sector is another major producer of carbon emissions. This includes all forms of road, air and water transport, and the use of all types of automobile systems.

Decarbonization of transport can be achieved through any of various measures. These measures include the selection and use of low-carbon alternative fuels [1].

Also referable to as ‘renewable fuels‘, ‘decarbonized fuels’ or ‘biofuels‘, these fuels are generally of lower net-carbon intensity than conventional fossil fuels.

The reason could be because they originate from biomass which is carbon neutral, or that they have undergone treatment with the intent of reducing their carbon content.

Alternative fuel usage represents the energy transition in transport, almost in the same manner that renewable energy does in the power sector.

Aside fuel substitution, technological modification has high significance as a means by which decarbonization can be achieved in transport.

Technological modifications could take the form of redesigned automobiles that do not use internal combustion engines. Electric cars constitute a common example of such automobiles, alongside hybrid cars and others that are made to run using biofuels, or electrolytic fuel cells with liquid hydrogen as energy source.

Electrification of the transport sector has seen most growth in the area of road transport. Its scope has extended beyond cars to heavy duty trucks, which account for approximately 25% of total emissions in road transport [5].

Conventional automobiles (gasoline vehicles, marine vessels and air planes), can also be used as tools for decarbonization, by modifying them to improve both energy efficiency and fuel efficiency.

Decarbonization Examples: Transport Decarbonization (Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority 2021 .CC BY 2.0.)
Decarbonization Examples: Transport Decarbonization (Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority 2021 .CC BY 2.0.)


3). Manufacturing Decarbonization (as one of the Decarbonization Examples)

Decarbonization is important in the manufacturing process, because it is broad in its scope or context, and includes multiple avenues from which significant amounts of carbon dioxide can be produced.

The manufacturing sector itself plays a central role in the economy, and is closely linked to other sectors like transport and power generation. As a result, successful decarbonization of manufacturing is equivalent to the establishment of a sustainable circular economy [4].

Material substitution is one of the ways to decarbonize manufacturing from its roots.

It involves replacing unsustainable raw materials with sustainable ones, which are less energy-intensive to handle, and have lower environmental impact/footprint.

The methods and equipment used in manufacturing can also be decarbonized, by modifying and replacing them with the goal of achieving higher efficiency and producing less waste.

Fuel-based equipment can be replaced or modified to yield electrolytic or renewable energy-based systems.

Lastly, sustainable products with high durability and low carbon intensity, can be produced. Biodegradable plastics represent one of such products, which are made to be carbon-neutral, and fully compatible with the ecosystem [7].


4). Low-Carbon Waste Management

Effective waste management is another essential ingredient required for a circular economy.

One of the most common measures involved in waste management is recycling.

Recycling could involve the refurbishing of used products and materials for reuse; or the complete conversion of such materials to biofuel and energy.

The latter is what is known as waste-to-energy conversion, and is particularly important for managing organic waste or biomass.

Waste management in general is applicable to all types of waste including organic and inorganic; as well as municipal, industrial, and commercial wastes.

With regards to waste-to-energy conversion; decarbonization requires the selection of low-carbon methods, as well as the integration of carbon capture equipment with waste conversion facilities.

Material substitution in the manufacturing sector works along with waste management to reduce carbon emissions from materials when they become waste.

Lastly, the decarbonization of waste management benefits immensely from environmental regulations for sustainable waste production, disposal and recycling, just as the decarbonization effort in manufacturing benefits from carbon tax policies.


5). Energy Production Decarbonization (as one of the Decarbonization Examples)

Energy production covers all measures involved in the provision of energy sources, from their extraction and refinement to subsequent modifications.

It is different from electricity generation, which is concerned only with the conversion and use of energy to generate electricity.

Decarbonization in energy production, is a grass-root approach to solving the problem of energy-related environmental degradation.

It includes fuel substitution and energy transition, with the replacement of conventional energy sources and technologies, with low-carbon alternatives.

Decarbonization principles can also be practices in the extraction of energy resources. Existing methods and equipment can be either modified or replaced with more sustainable ones that reduce the risk of resource depletion as well as the risk or rate of carbon emission.

The ultimate goal of decarbonization in energy production, is to bring the carbon emissions from the energy sector to the barest minimum, at all levels. This extends beyond the point of production, to all forms of conversion and usage.

Technological innovations designed to achieve this goal include those used for energy conversion, power distribution and even energy storage. Smart grids, energy management systems, microgrids, and artificial intelligence are some areas where such innovations have taken effect.



Decarbonization examples include;

1. Power Sector Decarbonization

2. Transport Decarbonization

3. Manufacturing Decarbonization

4. Low-Carbon Waste Management

5. Energy Production Decarbonization



1). Fernández-Dacosta, C.; Shen, L.; Schakel, W.; Ramirez, A.; Kramer, G. J. (2019). “Potential and challenges of low-carbon energy options: Comparative assessment of alternative fuels for the transport sector.” Applied Energy 236:590-606. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2018.11.055. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

2). Hong, W. Y.; Rahmat, B. N. (2022). “Energy consumption, CO2 emissions and electricity costs of lighting for commercial buildings in Southeast Asia.” Scientific Reports 12(1):13805. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-18003-3. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

3). Liebenthal, U.; Feron, P. H. M. (2016). “Absorption-Based Post-combustion Capture of Carbon Dioxide.” Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9780081005149/absorption-based-post-combustion-capture-of-carbon-dioxide. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

4). Mercader-Moyano, P. M.; Esquivias, P. M. (2020). “Decarbonization and Circular Economy in the Sustainable Development and Renovation of Buildings and Neighbourhoods.” Sustainability 12(19):7914. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/su12197914. (Accessed 4 October 2022).

5). Quiros, D. C.; Smith, J.; Thiruvengadam, A.; Huai, T.; Hu, S. (2017). “Greenhouse gas emissions from heavy-duty natural gas, hybrid, and conventional diesel on-road trucks during freight transport.” Atmospheric Environment 168. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2017.08.066. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

6). Scarlat, N.; Prussi, M.; Padella, M. (2022). “Quantification of the carbon intensity of electricity produced and used in Europe.” Applied Energy. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2021.117901. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

7). Sun, X.; Zeng, E.; Song, X.; Xie, M. (2021). “Biobased plastic: A plausible solution to carbon neutrality in plastic industry.” Available at: https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-896313/v1. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

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