5 Decarbonization Process Steps Explained

Decarbonization process is made up of intensity assessment, source reduction, product optimization, carbon isolation, and impact monitoring.

This article discusses steps in the decarbonization process, as follows;



1). Intensity Assessment (as part of the Decarbonization Process)

Intensity assessment or ‘intensity measurement’ is the first important step in the decarbonization process.

It is simply the precise evaluation of the amount of carbon emissions caused by a particular material, method, or equipment used in any given activity.

To arrive at the carbon intensity value for any given activity, volumetric units of carbon per output of the activity, must be paired.

This is usually done by dividing the amount of carbon emitted, by the quantity of output from the activity in question; such as tonnes per kilowatt-hour (tonnes/kWh) or pounds per kilowatt-hour (lb/kWh) for carbon intensity of electricity generation [1]; and tonnes per mile for carbon intensity of transport.

Intensity assessment is crucial as a preliminary step for all other steps in decarbonization. It increases the measurability, precision and effectiveness of subsequent steps like source reduction and product optimization, by providing a clear point of reference based on which decisions can be made.

By measuring carbon intensity, information on the emission (or pollution) potential of any given material or method, can be gathered. This information can then serve as a yardstick for all measures that may be taken to establish sustainability through carbon reduction or removal.

Carbon intensity is also important for policy development and enforcement. Environmental policies like the carbon tax, and several other policy-based measures for sustainable development, are based on precise values such as those derived through intensity assessment.

Decarbonization Process: Intensity Assessment (Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory 2020 .CC BY 2.0.)
Decarbonization Process: Intensity Assessment (Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory 2020 .CC BY 2.0.)


2). Source Reduction

Source reduction is a preliminary optimization step in the process of decarbonization, just like intensity assessment.

It has to do with the selection of raw materials with the aim of achieving sustainability in the production process; by reducing wastage and mitigating the risk of resource depletion.

The principle of source reduction is the basic foundation on which a circular economy is built [2]. In the context of decarbonization, the effectiveness of source reduction efforts depends on the precision of intensity assessment.

This means that reducing carbon from its source depends on the degree of precision of available information on carbon intensity of available materials.

Source reduction can be described from an ecologic perspective, as an effort to balance the interactions between carbon sinks and carbon sources in the ecosystem, by resolving net carbon emissions to zero, or at least to the barest minimum.

This approach helps to reduce carbon before products are manufactured, by selecting materials that are least susceptible to wastage, and which can undergo efficient recycling without significant greenhouse emissions.

It usually leads to the selection of bio-based materials to be used to create products, and also involves the use of sustainable product designs with the goal of achieving the highest levels of energy conservation and energy efficiency which are possible.


3). Product Optimization (as part of the Decarbonization Process)

Product optimization is the combination of all efforts to reduce carbon emissions during the creation of products.

It includes process optimization, material preparation, and equipment modification or replacement.

These efforts can be effective for carbon footprint reduction in industries where production is carried out. As a result, they may lead to cost reduction through waste minimization, energy recovery/conservation, and carbon tax cutting.

Products whose creation process can be optimized include food, energy, utensils, automobiles and electronics, among others.


4). Carbon Isolation

Carbon isolation includes all methods and tools that can be used to actively extract carbon from the atmosphere.

It can alternatively be referred to as ‘carbon capture’ or ‘carbon removal’, among others.

Carbon isolation can be implemented at any stage in the process of product creation.

It is very effective and may compensate for shortcomings in other stages of the decarbonization process. The versatility of carbon isolation makes it applicable in all sectors where carbon emissions are produced.

However, it is also expensive and often involves sophisticated equipment whose operation may require significant technical knowledge and skill.

Carbon isolation usually goes along with carbon storage and/or utilization.


5). Impact Monitoring (as part of the Decarbonization Process)

Impact monitoring (or ‘impact assessment’) is the final step in the decarbonization process.

It is iterative, and involves active evaluation of the effects of all decarbonization efforts that have been made.

In impact monitoring, current carbon emissions are measured in order to estimate the changes that have occurred, or the effects resulting from a particular approach, material or equipment.

Impact monitoring helps to align economic growth with environmental sustainability. It provides periodic data showing the environmental impacts of various economic activities, and can evaluate the implications of these impacts by measuring them against existing standards and policies.

The data collected during impact monitoring can be used to review and improve the entire decarbonization process.



Steps in the decarbonization process are;

1. Intensity Assessment

2. Source Reduction

3. Product Optimization

4. Carbon Isolation

5. Impact Monitoring



1). Jakhrani, A. Q.; Rigir, A. R.; Othman, A.; Samo, S.; Kamboh, S. A. (2012). “Estimation of Carbon Footprints from Diesel Generator Emissions” International Conference on Green and Ubiquitous Technology (GUT). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1109/GUT.2012.6344193. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

2). Parate, A. (2021). “Critical Assessment of Circular Economy Regarding Waste Reduction and Optimal Use of Resources.” Available at: https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.35104.10246. (Accessed 4 November 2022).

Similar Posts