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A concrete factory. Photo: Carter Dayne/Getty Images

Although coal continues to be phased out of electricity generation, it remains integral to producing materials for infrastructure projects like buildings, bridges and roads.

The big picture: Coal is the most emissions-intensive fossil fuel, and steel and cement production account for more than 20% of the world's use. While options exist to reduce or eliminate coal from those processes, many of the necessary technologies require policies, incentives and new markets to bring down the costs of commercial deployment.

Details: In the last 15 years, global steel consumption has doubled and global cement consumption has nearly tripled. Industrial emissions — mainly from the production of steel, cement and chemicals — were the largest contributor to the growth in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions last year, according to a Rhodium Group analysis.

Where it stands: New efforts to reduce these uses of coal are moving forward.

  • In 2017, California passed groundbreaking "Buy Clean" legislation mandating government procurement favor low-carbon materials.
  • The European Union is funding a cement plant design that integrates carbon capture and storage.
  • The Swedish government is funding a new type of clean steel plant that will eliminate coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 98%.

What to watch: Infrastructure investment, particularly on the scale outlined in programs like the Green New Deal, presents an opportunity to pull clean steel and cement into the market.

  • Federal procurement standards could be put in place that reward recycling, efficient materials use and new green technologies like alternative concretes, coal-free steel and industrial carbon capture and storage.
  • Without such policies, big infrastructure projects could further drive up industrial emissions levels.

Justin Guay directs global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project and advises the ClimateWorks Foundation. Rebecca Dell is the climate and industry strategist at the Hewlett Foundation.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.