Widening the Lens on Innovation for Clean Manufacturing

Workshop series and report for policymakers to inform a U.S. manufacturing innovation agenda that is compatible with climate change policies and a carbon-free economy.

With industry accounting for up to 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is imperative to integrate the manufacturing innovation agenda with climate change policies. The workshop series Widening the Lens on Innovation for Clean Manufacturing is part of an effort aimed at developing an integrated road map and recommendations for RD&D investments and policies that harness these synergies.

Released in June 2021, the resulting report is jointly published by the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy, Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation at Boston University, and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

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Organizers

Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE)
Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation (CMI)
Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF)

Workshop Resources:

Summaries

Presentations & Recordings

Congressional Briefing

Clean Energy & Climate Innovation: New Opportunities for Infrastructure Investment (infrastructure, RD&D, planning and financing)

Project Overview and Objectives

Amidst the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression and escalating trade and security controversies with China and other nations, the need to rebuild the U.S. manufacturing sector and increase its competitiveness has never been greater. At the same time, the threat of climate change will ultimately force this diverse sector to transition to much cleaner production processes. Industry accounts for approximately 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the United States is to emerge as a global leader in both manufacturing and climate, it must pursue a well-integrated dual approach to these goals.

This project seeks to bring underappreciated opportunities for clean manufacturing innovation to greater prominence with the goal of shaping the climate and manufacturing policy agenda. We plan to convene an expert working group, conduct a series of virtual workshops to assess opportunities, and write a report to propose new directions for the expansion of federal manufacturing research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) and technology transition investments. The report will be completed by June 2021 with recommendations that may be acted upon by the 117th Congress and the new administration.

Rationale

Industrial GHG emissions arise from far more diverse sources than those from electricity or transportation. The complexity of this challenge and the perceived high cost of abatement has meant that progress in this sector has lagged behind the others. But this situation has begun to change in the last couple of years, particularly in Europe. Significant efforts are underway to accelerate industrial electrification, expand the use of “green” hydrogen and other low-carbon fuels, and devise innovations to limit process emissions in making cement and other materials.

While these developments are welcome, the industrial decarbonization research agenda is not yet broad enough. Solutions that could be more effective over the long-term for high-emissions activities may be locked out unless they are added quickly. Technological domains that are making extraordinarily rapid progress but have not been integral to industrial research in the past, such as synthetic biology and materials by design, are particularly important to include.

The scope of the clean manufacturing innovation agenda has immense implications for U.S. leadership. The transition to a low-carbon economy could devalue fundamental competencies that firms in many major industrial sectors, such as metals, chemicals, and cement, rely on today. If U.S. manufacturers are first movers in developing and scaling innovative solutions and the associated competencies, they could seize the lead back in sectors where U.S. competitiveness has declined as well as establish an advantage in new ones.

The federal government has a clear interest in ensuring that the clean manufacturing innovation agenda is sufficiently broad, robustly engaged, and linked to U.S. competitiveness and climate goals. Although the private sector will ultimately bear the bulk of the cost of industrial decarbonization, federal investment and partnerships will be necessary to create options that will be timely, technically feasible, and economically viable.

Virtual Workshops

The working group convened a workshop series in early 2021 with 100 invited speakers and attendees. The first part of each workshop consisted of lightning talks by invited experts (non-working group members) in the thematic area to be covered. These talks were designed to familiarize the working group with the state-of-the-art in fields outside their areas of expertise. The second part consisted of focused discussions designed to produce a prioritized list of research topics and policy proposals. Workshop topics included low-temperature processes, high-temperature processes, biological solutions, and material substitution.