#03 Green Steel
Decarbonizing an amazing but really polluting material
Read time: 4.5 minutes
In this week’s issue you will learn about the importance of decarbonzing steel production and how it’s done: Green Steel
“By 2050 we will be emitting 5 billion tonnes of CO2 (10% of current global emissions) every year, just from steel making, unless we find a new, climate-friendly way to do it.” - Bill Gates
Top Green Steel News 🗞️
Volvo pioneers green steel usage: The giant Swedish company has become the first truck manufacturer in the world to start using fossil-free steel in its trucks.
Largest green steel plant being built in Sweden: Thanks to receiving a record $3.5bn in financing, H2 Green Steel will build the world’s largest green steel plant in Northern Sweden.
Nº1 steel producer in the world setting green targets: Baowu Steel Group (China), by far the largest steel producer, aims to increase it’s ratio of recycled steel to 30% by 2030.
Let’s dive in 🧠
We produce massive amounts of steel. Currently around 2 billion tonnes per year.
Steel is an amazing material.
It has helped us build the world we have today (schools, hospitals, bridges, etc.) and it will also be key in building a net-zero world (wind turbines, solar panels, dams, etc.).
It’s also one of the most highly recycled materials in use today (about 30% of total production comes from recycled steel scrap).
But producing the virgin steel is really bad for the environment.
Currently steel production represents 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with over 50% being made in China.
How is steel made?
To make steel you need to separate the oxygen from the iron and add a bit of carbon.
Summary of the traditional steelmaking process (left side of diagram):
Melt iron ore into iron pellets by using fossil fuels
Add a type of coal called coke.
Mix it all and get it really hot (1700ºC) in the presence of oxygen.
The resulting liquid metal is mixed with recycled “scrap” iron and oxygen.
You’re left with steel and lots of CO2 as a byproduct.
Making 1 ton of steel this way produces about 1.8 tonnes of CO2.
We could just capture the CO2 from the whole process, but the scale and efficiency required are not realistic.
Process for making green steel (right side of the diagram):
Water is split into hydrogen and oxygen by using electricity from renewable sources.
The hydrogen is added to the iron instead of coke.
Hydrogen reacts with iron at quite a low temperature (800ºC).
The byproduct of this reaction is water, which can be reused in step 1!
The resulting “sponge” iron is then mixed with recycled scrap iron.
Green hydrogen process emits approx 2.8% CO2 emissions of coke method.
Governments need to play a key role in accelerating the transition to green steel with both subsidies and a carbon pricing structure.
Lack of green hydrogen and renewable energy: A lot of renewable energy and hydrogen is needed to decarbonize the steel-making industry. The world would need up to three times the currently installed solar and wind energy sources to electrify the existing primary steel production.
Costs: Switching to electricity or hydrogen would require vast amounts of capital spending to erect new plants and retrofit old ones. Plus the existing ones are usually close to coal plants, not green hydrogen plants.
Politics: Steel is often associated with GDP growth of many countries and thus it’s of critical political importance, so messing with how it’s made is difficult.
Top Green Steel Companies 💰
H2 Green Steel: One of the best capitalised climate tech companies in Europe. Plans to avoid around 1% of global CO2 emissions by 2040. 5 million tonnes produced annually by 2030.
Boston Metal: Backed by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund. They’re taking a different approach to making green steel which is modular and more cost competitive according to them.
Hybrit: Stands for Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology. It’s a joint venture between 3 massive Swedish companies: SSAB (steel making), LKAB (mining) and Vattenfall (energy).
Sweeden is green steel’s paradise.
❗Extreme knowledge area❗
If you think this wasn’t enough here are a few more links to dig deeper.
World Steel Association: Literally everything about green steel. News, reports, videos, stories, even a “steel university”!
A fully detailed technical report: The International Energy Agency’s iron and steel technology roadmap. Has lots of cool graphs and all the numbers you need.
Green stransition tracking tool: A great interactive tool to see how countries are doing in terms of their roadmaps to decarbonize steel and many other sectors.
That’s it for today, 1 climate tech topic in under 5 minutes.
Next week… Green Cement! 🤯
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