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Steel decarbonisation progressing steadily

21st October 2022

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Efforts to decarbonise steelmaking include the deployment of new technologies to existing and new steel plants, and changing the format of raw materials, as well as how raw materials are mined, processed and transported.

During a panel discussion at news company Financial Times' Mining Summit on October 21, representatives from iron producers through to steel financiers discussed the ongoing work to decarbonise the industry and the expected changes to the industry into the future.

Steelmaking multinational ArcelorMittal VP and chief technology officer Pinakin Chaubal noted that the company was targeting a 25% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 and to be carbon-neutral by 2050. About $10-billion worth of projects that will be executed over the next decade to help achieve those targets have been announced.

"We are taking many different directions, as we will need to look at decarbonising blast furnaces by integrating new technologies and decarbonising steel production through the use of other technologies, such as direct reduced iron (DRI) and electric arc furnaces. Our two routes of decarbonisation include smart carbon and innovative DRI," he said.

ArcelorMittal, in its internal research and development organisation, is exploring converting iron-ore to sheets of iron, which can be done at relatively low temperatures, although this is a long-term project, said Chaubal.

The company also provides its sites for technology pilot projects as a means of accelerating technology development, and it has various such pilot projects under way, including bioethanol and carbon capture, storage and use projects, among others.

At its plant in Dunkirk, France, ArcelorMittal is investigating different carbon dioxide capture technologies and it has also launched a full-scale DRI hydrogen injection pilot project, he added.

Meanwhile, iron-ore producers, such as commodity mining major Vale, are changing their processes to help steel plants reduce the carbon intensity of the products they produce. Some of the changes include different forms of raw materials that are supplied to steel plants that help to reduce the carbon intensity of the processes, says Vale executive VP for ferrous minerals Marcello Spinelli.

More than 70% of the installed steelmaking capacity worldwide uses blast furnaces and the decarbonisation pathway for the steel industry includes the need to optimise blast furnaces and migrate them to other products, including the use of natural gas for fuel alongside carbon capture, and eventually using hydrogen as a fuel, he said.

"Vale has been working on reducing the impact of materials being supplied as direct product, and tests over the past two years indicate that our green briquette will reduce the carbon emissions of steelmaking clients by up to 10%.

"The first three-million-tonne-a-year plant to produce the green briquettes will come online in April and another four-million-tonne-a-year plant will come towards the end of next year. The plants have lower capital expenditure and lower operational expenditure as they reduce the dependency on sintering," noted Spinelli.

Further, steelmaker HBIS Group Strategic Research Institute Low Carbon Development Centre chief researcher Dr Menglong Li highligted that blast furnaces contribute about 90% to the production of steel volumes in China, and the industry is working closely with upstream partners on the topic of reducing carbon intensity.

"We have had good discussions with the team from Vale and we are trialling the use of briquettes in blast furnaces. Based on our calculations, the potential to reduce emissions by about 10% owing to different raw materials is promising," he added.

The industry is also exploring the use of other steelmaking technologies, including DRI and the use of alternative fuels.

Further, Chinese steelmakers must report their emissions to the regulator in China. However, recent changes require steelmakers to report on their Scope 3 emissions as well, which has driven demand for and action to reduce the carbon intensity of suppliers and raw materials, as well as in the use of the final steel products, he noted.

"This means that there is now lots of talk in the steelmaking industry about emissions during the mining or production of raw materials, and when they are prepared and transported. It is a trend that industrial customers are looking for the lowest carbon footprint, and hence the need for cooperation with upstream suppliers and downstream clients in the steel industry," he stated.

Further, steel maker SSAB has been running its blast furnaces on hybrid iron-ore pellets since the 1980s. Its blast furnaces are among the most efficient in the world, and two sites are part of the European Union benchmark system, said SSAB executive VP and CTO Dr Martin Pei.

"Despite these efforts, we are still one of the largest emitters in Finland and Sweden. This is why, in 2016, we started the hybrid initiative in which we joined with partners to explore hydrogen direct reduction processes using pellets and hydrogen produced from water electrolysis using the abundant renewable energy in that part of Sweden," he highlighted.

The company has done extensive laboratory and pilot research and has announced that it is establishing a technology that uses pure hydrogen for iron-ore reduction, which can produce high-quality products, with high metallisation that is stable and mechanically strong.

"With this technology, we foresee avoiding the hot briquetted iron step in the process, which makes it more efficient and cost effective than our blast furnaces," Pei said.

The success of its project has led SSAB to accelerate its transformation and its next step is to develop a demonstration plant. The company aims for the plant to enter operation in 2026 and start to supply commercial steel, after which the company would phase out its remaining blast furnaces by around 2030. This is 15 years ahead of its original targets, he added.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online





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