Univ. Prof. René Hofmann

Foto: AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
Photo: AIT Austrian Institute of Technology

Head of the “Industrial energy systems” research group, TU Wien – Institute for Energy Systems and Thermodynamics; Thematic Coordinator of the Efficiency in Industrial Processes and Systems research field, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, Center for Energy

In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges for the energy-intensive industry in the transition to low-carbon production?
The decarbonisation of industry must always be considered from two viewpoints: on the one hand, the energy supply for industrial processes as a cross-sectoral substitute for fossil energy sources and, on the other hand, the production processes themselves. The key factors here are the cascading and efficient use of high-quality raw materials and energy sources, and increased rates of recycling, but also the complete substitution of some production processes such as the use of direct reduction with hydrogen in steel production. It is also possible to make captured CO2 available to other industrial processes as a high-quality raw material, by applying carbon capture and usage approaches in the cement industry, for example. To be able to achieve the decarbonisation of industry, however, the use of electrical energy has to be significantly higher than today’s level. This presents new challenges for the storage and electrical infrastructure in order for the increasing proportion of volatile, renewable energies to be optimally used and integrated.
A switch to low-carbon production is currently still afflicted by major economic, regulatory and technical uncertainties. A transformation in this direction requires significant investment and this can only be made on the basis of clear and reliable framework conditions.
Which innovations and key technologies will drive forward the decarbonisation of industry?
The digitalisation and automation of the industrial sector has a major influence on the decarbonisation of industry. It enables cross-location efficient usage and provision of resources including the associated energy supply. In this way, raw-material cycles can be completed and cascading usage pathways can be optimised. Digital energy management allows for a flexible response to the availability of resources and the development of new business segments through the provision of flexibility. There are further key topics relating to the use of waste heat to increase efficiency. The coupling of high-temperature processes, e.g. in industrial furnaces, with the further development of heat pumps plays a significant role here. The use of hydrogen as both an energy source and a raw material in the chemical industry and iron and steel production also has the potential to make a considerable contribution to the decarbonisation of industry.
What does the development of climate-friendly production methods mean for Austria as a location for industry?
There is an opportunity for Austria to take a pioneering role internationally in the decarbonisation of industry with the development of climate-friendly production methods. The industrial location can be sustainably secured, strengthening Austria’s competitiveness in a globalised world through the export of these products and technologies.
You represent Austria in the “Industrial Energy-Related Technologies and Systems” technology programme by the International Energy Agency. How do Austrian research institutes and companies benefit from international cooperation?
The Technology Collaboration Programme “Industrial Energy-Related Technologies and Systems” focuses on the topic of energy use in industry. The goal is intensified research and development of industrial energy technologies and systems in the context of international cooperation between OECD and non-OECD countries. The focus is on the collaboration of industry-relevant research disciplines, networking within industrial sectors and on cross-sectional technologies, as well as the transfer of information and knowledge between experts from industry, science and politics. Participating in IETS allows Austrian stakeholders to network at an international level, provide R&D output for industrial energy technologies and systems and to implement projects abroad using Austrian technologies.

IEA TCP – Industrial Energy-Related Technologies and Systems (IETS)
Annex 15 – Industrial Excess Heat Recovery
Annex 17 – Membrane Processes in Biorefineries
Annex 18 – Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence and Related Technologies for Energy Efficiency and GHG Emissions Reduction in Industry
Annex 19 – Electrification in Industry