The race for green technology just accelerated

Feb 16, 2023
INFLATION REDUCTION ACT

Founder and Managing Director, Donal O’Riain, discusses continued commitment to investment in Europe and the need for European governments to match this commitment through state support for climate innovators.

The adoption of the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act has set off a global race to scale clean technologies and reap the combined benefits of decarbonisation, energy security and industrial leadership. The EU has the means to match the pace set by the United States, but only if it overcomes barriers to scaling and industrialising innovative cleantech solutions.

Europe has long been a champion of decarbonisation, historically focussing on a legislative framework and a series of sticks requiring emissions reductions, rather than providing subsidies and incentives, with the aim of a 55% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030.  

Now however, just when Europe’s vision and foresight should be paying off, its efforts to develop and scale low carbon technologies and foster innovative businesses, are in danger of being side-lined or worse, losing those very businesses and solutions it has sought to nurture. The question now is, can Europe keep up with the US on green subsidies?

As the founder and MD of a low carbon cement business which has operated in Europe for over twenty years, and recently returned from the US, my experiences offer a timely perspective on what Europe is up against in the battle for ideas and innovation.  

Until recently the cement industry’s options when it comes CO2 reduction were limited: essentially reduce energy use and hope that CCUS will deliver the necessary reductions when it comes on-stream in 2035.

ACT, our new low carbon cement technology, can change all that, decarbonising the cement industry by as much as 70%.  It can significantly reduce CO2 emissions from the traditional cement manufacturing process by 50%, by 2030. No other technology can deliver this level of reduction in this timeframe. However, to do this by the end of the decade, the next two years are crucial.

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With the Inflation Reduction Act, the US has effectively rolled out the red carpet for green technology. The level of financial support available in the US means that, while maintaining our activities in Europe, we are also looking at expanding our investment there and will be able to scale and develop our business at a much faster rate than previously thought. Nevertheless, Ecocem remains committed to Europe, with four plants already in operation, and we will be investing heavily over the next five to seven years.

Additional support from EU policymakers is essential for businesses like ours to scale up and meet the EU’s 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation targets. While Europe’s proposed Green Deal Industrial Plan is a good start to decarbonising Europe’s industry while ensuring its global competitiveness, it is missing a critical and rapid win when it comes to immediate CO2 reduction.  

Most of the plan is focussed on longer term outcomes and technologies. Yet, there are real opportunities to drive down emissions in the short term by focussing funding on unfashionable existing industries and technologies where proven low-cost short-term solutions are already available – low carbon cement being a critical example. The cement industry is responsible for over 7% of all global emissions so short-term delivery of significant reductions is a prize worth winning.

Europe has many ways of competing in the global cleantech race. However, we need to quickly bridge the existing gap between short- and long-term solutions. For cement, low-cost short-term solutions are already available, but they need funding and regulatory enablement to scale at speed. I am looking forward to the publication of the Commission’s Net Zero Industry Act to see how the EU is planning to ensure the rapid deployment of clean tech in the next 5 years.

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