Though essential to all aspects of our life, the manufacturing of steel also consumes the highest amount of energy and this is at the center of attention as rising temperatures and climate change throws the spotlight on it. Can the industry’s reliance on fossil fuel be substituted, and new technologies introduced to bring about advances in green steel? If successful, it could be one of the greatest success stories in the process of energy transition.
Steel production has multiple adverse impacts on the environment at various stages of its production. it includes air emissions such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, and fine particles matter, water contamination, and hazardous solid wastes. Coking and iron-making are the major causes of environmental pollution in the process of steelmaking.
Moving To Green Steel Is Imperative To Control Total Emission Targets
Steel production accounts for a hefty 9% of all direct emissions caused by the use of fossil fuels. Steel production is exceedingly reliant on the use of coking coal which is a heavy pollutant. But then steel is indispensable to modern life and is a crucial component in almost every aspect of it. Steel is also a crucial part of our future processes as we try to rein in the environmental damage done over the past century.
The steel industry is directly linked to the cement industry, which has taken steps to control its pollution generation. And this has increased pressure on the industry to come up with methods that will ensure more green steel in the future.
The majors in the mining industry have set deadlines to move away from the mining of coal. The BHP Group, the world’s second-largest mining operator moved away in 2018, and others in the industry are either moving away or setting a limit on the production of coal. This has given fresh impetus to move towards the production of green steel with zero carbon.
The manufacture of steel in blast furnaces causes high levels of CO2 emissions. Though energy consumption in this sector has been halved in the last 3 decades, moving to a truly green steel production process will be tough. Producing metal without releasing carbon back into the environment will require replacing the use of coking coal with a reliable alternative.
One alternative to coking coal for the manufacturing of green steel is the use of blue hydrogen, and recycling a greater amount of scrap. Industry players have pledged to move to net-zero emission levels by 2050.
It is a tough challenge and governments across the world must be active participants in the initiative. The United Nations Climate Change Conference this November should come to an agreement on limiting the use of metallurgical coal and finally eliminating its use.
It will allow governments to show their commitment to the growth of processes for manufacturing green steel. Various governments have already taken the initiative. A Clean Steel Fund in the UK will aid decarbonization efforts and help manufacture green steel. Green Deal by the EU has set 2050 as the goal to turn carbon-neutral.
Chinese steelmakers, who account for 50% of the world’s production of steel have committed to a carbon-neutral industry by 2060, though they haven’t been transparent on the intended roadmap.
Promising Green Steel Technologies Of The Future
The leading technology for manufacturing green steel is the use of hydrogen to replace coking coal. And instead of carbon dioxide, the byproduct is water. And hydrogen sourced through renewable sources is an endless source of green energy. Sweden, thanks to its wind turbines, finds itself in a leading position to produce green steel using hydrogen. ArcelorMittal and Thyssenkrupp of Germany are also moving towards the use of hydrogen in place of coking coal to manufacture green steel.
Molten oxide electrolysis is another method that does away with the use of blast furnaces and coking ovens. A solution of liquid electrolyte is used to dissolve the iron ore before an electric current is used to reduce the iron ore through an endothermic reaction. Some of the biggest mining companies have invested in this technology, showing their level of enthusiasm in using this method to produce green steel.
One major positive sign in recent years is the willingness of major miners to invest in downstream technologies to solve the problem of emissions and produce green steel. BHP and Rio Tinto have committed huge funds with the former investing $400 million to fund new technologies to produce green steel.
The shift to the use of green steel will mark a major victory in the transition from a major polluting industry to a proven resource that will help reach the worldwide target for controlling greenhouse gas emissions.