What Potential Does Decarbonization Hold to Revolutionize Boiler Systems?

by Emily Newton

Boiler systems are some of the most critical pieces of equipment in heavy industries. They’ve powered manufacturing processes and generated heat since the industrial revolution, but as manufacturers’ needs change, so must these systems. The push to decarbonize industrial boilers is especially important.

Decarbonization is growing across many industrial processes, particularly in energy and supply chain operations. Extending these efforts to boiler systems can yield many benefits, though this potential can be easy to overlook compared to other, more obvious greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributors. Despite that relative lack of attention, boiler decarbonization could — and should — transform industries.

Why Decarbonize Industrial Boilers?

Understanding why it’s important to decarbonize industrial boilers is the first step to making the most of their potential. Here are a few of the most significant advantages.


The most straightforward reason to decarbonize industrial boilers is to become more sustainable. Steam supplies 29% of the manufacturing sector’s energy, but every BTU gained from steam power requires 20 to 40% more fuel use to generate that steam. Because most boilers operate on fossil fuels, that inefficiency makes steam-derived energy a significant GHG emissions source.

Steam is important not only as a power source but as a feedstock for industrial processes and heating. Consequently, you shouldn’t move away from boilers entirely to reduce emissions. Rather, you should decarbonize these systems to keep their benefits without their carbon footprint.

As industrial processes grow, this emissions reduction becomes increasingly crucial. Switching to green electricity to power boilers instead of fossil fuels will play a critical role in preventing the worst effects of climate change.

Regulatory Compliance

Boiler decarbonization can also help comply with rising environmental regulations. The EPA already enforces boiler emissions standards for carbon monoxide, mercury, hydrogen chloride and particulate matter. As climate issues become more prominent, additional GHG emissions restrictions will likely emerge, making fossil fuel-reliant boilers a costly disadvantage.

Boilers that produce too much carbon dioxide or similar GHGs could result in hefty fines. Alternatively, government climate initiatives could offer economic incentives to use more eco-friendly systems. Decarbonizing boilers now will help adapt to these future changes, preventing regulatory fines and potentially earning new income.

Emissions regulations are already emerging across the globe. The sooner companies switch over to emissions-free boilers, the more they’ll be able to remain compliant with minimal disruption to their operations.

Cost Savings

Another compelling reason to decarbonize industrial boilers is that it can save money. Decarbonization will incur higher upfront expenses through renewable energy purchases, new boiler equipment and disruption from installing these upgrades. However, the resulting efficiency will make up for those costs and reduce ongoing expenses over time.

Zero-emissions boilers don’t require fuel resupplies, and electricity is often cheaper than fossil fuels. Renewables like wind and solar are also the most cost-effective form of energy today and will only become more so as these technologies improve. Consequently, a renewable-powered boiler will be cheaper to operate than even the most efficient fossil fuel alternative.

Powering boilers with renewables also removes dependence on the electrical grid. If you generate your own power through on-site solar or wind infrastructure, you don’t have to pay for electricity from an energy company. Over time, those utility savings will compensate for the initial cost of installation.

New Business Opportunities

As boiler decarbonization makes manufacturers more sustainable, it can also help them boost their business. Consumer and commercial clients alike are trending toward eco-conscious purchases. Customers want to buy sustainable products, and companies want to work with ESG-compliant partners to improve their own sustainability. Consequently, decarbonization can earn businesses new clients and partnerships.

More than 60% of consumers today say they’d pay more for a sustainable product. Products making ESG-related claims have also grown faster than those that haven’t, proving customers are acting on those statements. As younger, more eco-conscious generations make up a larger portion of the workforce, similar benefits will grow in B2B circles, too.

Decarbonizing boilers isn’t the only way to become more sustainable, but it’s an important part of the puzzle, given boilers’ prevalence and high emissions. As more businesses embrace this decarbonization, it’ll become increasingly pressing to do likewise to avoid falling behind the more sustainable competition.

Improved Maintenance Processes

Manufacturers can also enhance their maintenance strategies if they decarbonize their industrial boilers. Boiler design must account for extreme stresses and deliver near-continuous power or steam generation, so breakdowns are costly and disruptive. Electric, efficient systems offer easier, more proactive ways of maintaining them, preventing this disruption.

Electric power is less volatile and often involves fewer moving parts than fossil fuel-derived energy, so electric boilers require less maintenance. Decarbonization also typically requires digitization to track and adjust system efficiency. These data-tracking systems enable you to implement predictive maintenance.

Predictive maintenance uses operational data to predict when a machine needs repair. These data-driven alerts let you fix issues before they become larger, more disruptive problems while avoiding unnecessary downtime from unneeded repairs. As a result, you can spend less time and money on boiler upkeep by embracing the digital tools necessary for decarbonization.

Technologies Enabling Boiler Decarbonization

These benefits highlight the need to decarbonize industrial boilers. These are more than just theoretical use cases, too. Recent technological breakthroughs are making boiler decarbonization a reality, paving the way for a more efficient industrial future.

A collaboration between energy company AtmosZero and New Belgium Brewing recently unveiled a carbon-neutral electrified boiler to replace the brewery’s fossil fuel-powered equipment. The boiler uses half the electricity of a traditional electric system, making it possible to power with renewable energy, even when renewables can’t match fossil fuel’s output.

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) enable similar improvements. New boiler systems with automated features can analyze energy data in real-time with AI, letting them adapt to changing circumstances. These adjustments let them maintain desired outputs while using as little energy as possible. These energy savings, in turn, make renewable power a more practical alternative to more widely available fossil fuels.

Decarbonizing Industrial Boilers Unlocks Many Benefits

Industrial boilers are critical to many operations but often carry a high carbon footprint, making them ideal targets for decarbonization. Embracing this shift will not only unlock environmental benefits, but help manufacturers become more cost-efficient, comply with regulations and reach an increasingly eco-conscious market.

As more facilities decarbonize their boiler systems, these benefits will ripple across the industry. The manufacturing sector will transform for the better as a result.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over six years experience covering stories in the manufacturing, logistics and construction industries.