Can Industrial Clusters Help Reduce Harmful Emissions?

ACEEE's Director of Industrial Program discusses how clusters of industrial companies offer a powerful approach to developing and deploying low-carbon infrastructure.

By Ed Rightor

As the Biden administration seeks to cut climate-warming emissions from industry, it needs to provide support for an approach that is showing promise in the United States and abroad: clusters of industrial companies.

industrial clusters
Research Triangle Park is the largest research park in the U.S. and home to multiple biotech, technology, and software firms as well as business and startup incubators. (Photo: Research Triangle Regional Partnership)

These clusters—concentrations of companies providing specialized goods or services—offer a unique and powerful approach to developing and deploying low-carbon infrastructure. They can promote both competition and cooperation that spur companies to operate more productively in sourcing materials, accessing utilities (e.g., water, power), and advancing technology. Research Triangle Park, for example, is a cluster in North Carolina where the leveraged learning of co-located companies and three nearby universities has led to rapid advancements in biotech and pharmaceuticals expertise and capabilities.

Clusters of companies are also starting to collaborate on the path to step-change reductions in greenhouse gases (GHGs), which is important because industry accounts for more than one-fourth of U.S. GHGs. To spur the growth of these clusters and capture their full potential, government must play a role.

To that end, ACEEE is proposing (thanks to input from more than 60 organizations across industry, labor, and NGOs) a new Department of Energy program to advance industrial clusters and create jobs. In our Innovation and Competitiveness at Industrial Clusters proposal, DOE would use a competitive bidding process to strengthen clusters that have strategic plans to pursue low-carbon technology, improve supply chain agility, increase efficiency and resilience, train workers, and reduce environmental impacts in surrounding communities.

We see industrial clusters as a linchpin for rapidly reducing harmful (GHG and chemical) emissions. Single companies acting alone cannot pull off the swift transformation needed to slash emissions in industry, which is particularly challenging to decarbonize. Companies will need to collaborate…

To learn more about clusters of industrial companies as a way to cut climate-warming emissions, continue reading Rightor’s blog post on the ACEEE website.

Industrial ClustersEdward Rightor is the Director of the Industrial Program for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. He earned a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State University and a bachelor of science in chemistry from Marietta College. He joined ACEEE in June 2019. Ed develops and leads the strategic vision for the industrial sector, shapes the research and policy agenda, and convenes stakeholders to accelerate energy efficiency. Prior to joining ACEEE, Ed held several leadership roles at Dow Chemical.