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  • Writer's pictureKartik Verma

Green steel production?

Updated: May 26, 2022

Shifting focus to heavy industries for today; we will briefly cover emissions from steel production and new initiatives in this space. Starting this week - we are introducing a new section called “Our Take” where we share our opinion on the content reported.

What to expect today:

Congratulations to the LA Rams on winning the Super Bowl! By the way, did you all notice the #TeamEarth ad by Salesforce? Check it out here!

Brief primer on emissions from steel production

Image Source: WSJ

The world produces a lot of steel - over 240 kilos for every single person in the world every year. About 1.8 billion tons in total. We pretty much can’t do anything that doesn’t somehow require steel. But the environmental impact of steel is enormous. Steel production is one of the most energy-consuming and CO2 emitting industrial activities in the world.

How does steel production produce carbon?

Iron production is reliant on coal; coke (a form of coal) is used as a fuel as well as a fuel during the process. For the chemistry enthusiasts out there - the reactions that happen in a blast furnace to produce iron (roughly) are given below:

  • 2C (carbon - coke) + 02 (oxygen) >>> 2CO (carbon monoxide)

  • Fe2O3 (iron ore) + 3 CO (carbon monoxide) >>> 2Fe (iron) + 3 CO2 (carbon dioxide)

Iron is then refined into steel by removing impurities and adding substances like manganese, chromium etc. depending on the end application. Steel mills have a number of furnaces and subunits involved in the production process that emit carbon dioxide. The largest of these are the blast furnaces and the on-site power plant.

How much carbon is produced by the steel production process?

Steel production is an energy-intensive process as it requires high temperatures to transform iron ore into steel. The average CO2 emissions from steel production is about 1.85 tonnes CO2 per tonne of steel produced. Overall, between 7-9% of all fossil fuel-based CO2 emissions are derived from the steel industry. If we counted the emissions of the steel industry as if it were a nation, it would rank as the 5th largest in the world.

HYBRIT initiative

Image Source: HYBRIT

SSAB, the largest steel manufacturer in Sandanavia, has taken a policy decision to accelerate the company’s green transition. The decision was taken against the background of strongly growing demand for fossil-free steel. Leveraging HYBRIT, the company is targeting to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions around 2030, 15 years earlier than previously announced.

What is HYBRIT?

HYBRIT, short for Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology, is an initiative started by three steel manufacturers, SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall to develop a fossil-free value chain for iron and steel production using fossil-free electricity and hydrogen, thus minimizing the carbon dioxide emissions throughout the value chain.

How does it work?

HYBRIT technology involves replacing the blast furnace process, which uses carbon and coke to remove the oxygen from iron ore, with a direct reduction process where we use fossil-free hydrogen produced from water using electricity from fossil-free energy sources. Instead of carbon dioxide, water vapor is formed. We are thus creating the world’s first fossil-free reduction of iron ore to give sponge iron, a central step for fossil-free iron and steel production.

Our take

While we appreciate the innovations coming from the Scandinavian countries, we are really hoping that this investment ultimately brings down the cost of “green” steel down to be at a comparable level to regular steel production. Currently, it is about 20% higher. The EU accounts for only 13% of world’s steel production and until China, which accounts for 60% of the world’s steel production, doesn’t change its production methods, these initiatives will have minimal impact. Government intervention in subsidizing green steel could also motivate customers of steel (auto-manufacturers, builders etc.) to increase demand for green steel and hopefully, overtime, we can bring down the cost for widespread adoption without subsidies.

This is a new section we are trying for the planet optimist where we share our opinion. Would love to know what you think here!

Recommendations from the team

  • Green Wordle - Check out this take on wordle for a cleaner and greener world!

  • YouTube - Check out Salesforce’s Team Earth ad aired during Superbowl (1 min video)

  • YouTube - Video series on the HYBRIT initiative (6 videos; 15 min total)

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