The industrial sector, which includes businesses that handle raw materials for manufacturing and consumer goods, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and has proven challenging to decarbonize.
Much of China’s industrial sector is organized into “parks,” which have been designated as locations for concentrated industrial activities. China currently has about 2,500 industrial parks that are primarily powered by coal. According to a new study performed by Princeton University experts, this clustering of industry affords unique and underutilized prospects for focused energy supply emissions reduction efforts.
The research, which was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, examines how specific decarbonization solutions available to Chinese industrial parks can bring China and the rest of the world closer to net-zero goals while also providing additional benefits such as freshwater savings and health benefits.
Industrial parks can be a pioneer for low-carbon policies in practice.
Yang Guo, Study Lead Author and Associate Research Scholar, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
The group of five Princeton engineers and policy experts, along with coworkers from many Chinese universities and industries, studied 850 industrial parks and discovered that by combining grid electricity and onsite green power, these hubs could meet their energy needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40%.
The investigators based their decarbonization scenario for industrial park energy supply on existing Chinese energy policies, which include the phase-out of coal, increased use of onsite solar and wind energy, and increased use of energy recovered from waste incineration. To compensate for any gaps in the energy supply, their decarbonization scenario includes additional grid electricity and heat from onsite natural gas plants.
The authors then assessed the carbon and air pollutant emissions, as well as freshwater consumption, of each of the 850 industrial parks to quantify the benefits of their suggested decarbonization pathway.
Air pollution levels from the 2030 baseline and mitigation scenarios for industrial park emissions were estimated using a regional air quality model.
The investigators then measured the carbon, water, health, and economic benefits of their proposed 2030 industrial park mitigation pathway versus a baseline 2030 industrial park pathway that retires fossil fuel facilities on a regular schedule while keeping emissions from all economic activities except industrial parks constant (such as a 30-year lifetime for coal-fired facilities).
After accounting for onsite emission reductions partially offset by higher grid electricity and natural gas usage, the scientists found that their proposed mitigation approach cuts greenhouse gas emissions by around 40% overall.
This is equal to 7% of China’s total emissions in 2014. Freshwater consumption falls by roughly 20%, with the greatest reduction in water stress recorded in the most water-stressed areas. In addition to these advantages, the related net reduction in air pollution exposure results in approximately 42,000 fewer premature deaths by 2030.
Finally, the authors concluded that the net economic advantages of decarbonizing industrial parks and avoiding premature deaths greatly outweigh the expenses of modifications in equipment and energy usage, bringing in between $30 and $156 billion.
A clean energy transition in industrial hubs can provide large environmental, health, and economic benefits.
Denise Mauzerall, Study Corresponding Author and Faculty, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, Princeton University
Reducing China’s industrial sector’s dependency on fossil fuels would help accelerate China’s green transition and avoid fossil fuel infrastructure lock-in.
According to the authors, the high net benefits projected by this analysis can help justify the investments and policy interventions required to transition China’s industrial parks to a cleaner energy pathway.
Given the world’s reliance on Chinese industrial exports, any measures to decarbonize it will have far-reaching global implications for international supply chain emissions.
Guo, Y., et al. (2023). Carbon Mitigation and Environmental Co-Benefits of a Clean Energy Transition in China’s Industrial Parks. Environmental Science and Technology. doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c05725.