In what ways may steel be made more environmentally friendly? - Cafeqa

In what ways may steel be made more environmentally friendly?


Solutions to clean up steel are costly and difficult to scale, and the miraculous material is responsible for about 10% of global warming on its own

It is fundamental to contemporary living and has a role in both the acceleration and mitigation of climate change.

Almost every household item, from automobiles to kitchen sinks, is made of steel because it is inexpensive, durable, and powerful. World leaders are relying on the construction of wind turbines and power pylons, which use it as a key component, to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.


It’s crucial to the economy’s functioning. Heavy industry decarbonization expert Gauri Khandekar of the Free University of Brussels says it affects every industry.

The production of the metal contributes to the change in the climate. Greenhouse gas pollution, which increases global temperatures, intensifies tropical cyclones and heat waves, and is 7-9% the result of industrial activity.


Decarbonizing steel is a “critical” priority for this decade

Steelmaking is notoriously polluting due to the massive quantities of energy required to melt iron ore in blast furnaces in order to extract pure iron. As a consequence of the chemical reaction, carbon dioxide is released. This method accounts for about 75% of steel production; furnaces that use this process typically run for 15-20 years before requiring costly retirement or repairs, and they mostly use coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, the demand for steel will have increased by one-third. In order to fulfill the temperature objectives set forth in the Paris Agreement, experts argue that today’s decisions about the production of that steel will be pivotal.

“The 2020s are a very critical decade in this regard because more than 70% of the global blast furnace fleet will reach the end of their campaign life and require reinvestment decisions,” said Wido Witecka, a steel expert at German climate think tank Agora Energiewende.

Clean technology, like as solar panels and plant-based meats, are accessible, inexpensive, and simple to scale up in sectors like electricity and agriculture, but in heavy industries, the majority of these alternatives are still in the development stages. Politicians have been hesitant to handle the logistical issues that many of these bring.

Switching to hydrogen fuelled by renewable energy instead of fossil fuels

Eliminating coal-fired blast furnaces is one option. Instead, direct-reduced iron plants allow steelmakers to remove iron from ore by reacting the rock with gas. The next step is to transform the iron pellets into steel using an electric arc furnace, which may be powered by renewable energy sources. In the first stage, utilizing fossil gas instead of coal is better for the environment, but it still causes global warming and air pollution.

Companies in Europe are taking a chance that they can power these facilities with hydrogen instead, a gas that can be produced sustainably using renewable energy sources. Rather than the current process of producing carbon dioxide gas from the reaction of oxygen atoms in the ore and carbon atoms in the fossil fuels, the reaction would take place with hydrogen atoms to produce water.

“The beauty about this concept is, yes, you need a new production process, but as a by-product, you have water instead of carbon dioxide,” Witecka said.

Volvo built a vehicle using SSAB’s first shipment of fossil-free steel, which the company disclosed last year.

However, massive quantities of renewable energy would be needed to produce this quantity of hydrogen in an environmentally friendly manner, which would cause other industries that are more challenging to clean to lose resources. A recent analysis found that in order to make all of Europe’s steel using hydrogen generated from renewable sources, an amount of green power equivalent to 340 TWh would be required. The amount of energy produced by wind turbines in the European Union was 437 TWh in the previous year.

“One of the big challenges is where we build these hydrogen production facilities,” said Caitlin Swalec, a steel analyst with the US-based non-profit Global Energy Monitor. “It needs to happen in places that have that renewable energy capacity.”

Carbon capture and storage

The collection and subterranean storage of carbon emissions from steel mills is an additional alternative for the steel industry.

Capturing pollutants before they may be released into the atmosphere is the goal of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. However, the amount of emissions that CCS can remove from steel and the associated costs are not yet known. Because steel mills produce so much pollution, the procedure is probably going to cost more than in sectors like cement.

Carbon capture is projected to account for half of the world’s steel production by 2050, according to an IEA roadmap for achieving temperature objectives. That would make hydrogen available for use in other, less easily cleaned processes, such as transportation or fertilizers.

To get there, however, experts suggest that governments should price emissions to encourage CCS development, making conventional manufacturing practices reflect the social cost of pollution. Research and pilot initiatives to enhance CO2 collection rates should also be funded.

“One of the reasons why we don’t know answers to questions like capture rates or how would it work in a commercial scale is because steel companies haven’t had to actually reduce their emissions,” stated Eadbhard Pernot of the Clean Air Task Force, one of the few environmental groups insisting on increased funding for carbon capture technology.

Is recycling steel an option?

Steelmakers may put off immediate action by focusing on long-term solutions, according to analysts.

Steelmakers will continue to pollute the air with the coal they burn in blast furnaces unless CCS becomes effective and inexpensive soon. They will continue to use fossil gas for iron ore purification if there is insufficient green hydrogen to construct direct-reduced iron facilities.

“It’s quite a big risk,” Khandekar said. “Companies can’t be left alone to take the decisions on their own.”

People may be more cautious with steel if society wanted to purchase more time. Recycled materials currently make up over 25% of steel. Steel can only be subjected to this procedure up to a certain point before it becomes too weak from the introduction of impurities such as nickel and copper. Iron would need less purification if recycling rates were to increase.

Additionally, the IEA estimates that by 2050, demand for steel might be 20% lower if we use it more effectively. Public works projects might make better use of it, infrastructure could last longer, and national construction rules could be updated to be less wasteful. They may mandate that automakers produce more fuel-efficient vehicles rather than cumbersome SUVs.

“We’re not going to get completely away from it and we’re never going to reach 100% recycling rates,” stated the company. “But we can certainly do much better.”

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