Andrew Purvis

Director, Safety, Health and Environment, worldsteel

11 December 2018

It is clear that steel will play a critical role in enabling the emissions reductions envisioned in the Paris agreement to be delivered. Decarbonisation is steel intensive, whether we are talking about renewable energy, mass transport, smart cities or electrification. 

However, it is also a reality that the production of 1.6 billion tonnes of steel every year leads to the emission of significant amounts of CO2 – estimated to be between 7% and 9% of the global total. So, while we are clearly part of the solution, we also contribute to the problem and need to play our part in global mitigation efforts.

Our industry is frequently described as “hard to decarbonise” and it is not difficult to see why. 

Carbon is an inherent part of the process that reduces iron ore to metallic iron, and our assets are long lived and capital intensive. With the best will in the world one can’t power a blast furnace with a windmill or switch immediately to less greenhouse gas intensive EAF production – there simply isn’t enough scrap available to meet steel demand.

So, what do we do?

The first thing we need to do is ensure that the steel we produce now, using conventional technology, is produced in a greenhouse gas and energy efficient manner.  worldsteel’s Board of Directors have charged the Association with facilitating the exchange of leading practice to ensure that the performance of the best can be replicated by the many.

The next step will be to develop and deploy breakthrough technology.  worldsteel’s members are pursuing a wide variety of research and development projects that aim to radically change the way we make iron and steel.

For example, Tata Steel are piloting HIsarna, a technology that is potentially well suited to the use of CCS, SSAB are examining the use of hydrogen as an alternate reductant, while ArcelorMittal are piloting their ‘Steelanol’ CCUS initiative as part of a wider decarbonisation strategy.

While these projects differ in approach, they do have some commonalities.  Successful deployment at scale will require access to affordable clean hydrogen and carbon free electricity in large volumes, and if CCS is to play a part, access to affordable CO2 transmission and storage infrastructure.

Finally, development and implementation of new technologies will require heavy investments from the steel industry but also a real partnership with national and regional governments, to share risks and costs.

COP24 side-event - Japan Pavilion: Domestic Climate Policy and International Competitiveness, including panelists from Keidanren represented by Hirojuki Tezuka (JFE), the University of Tokyo, RFF, KAPSARC, RITE.

Are you in Katowice? worldsteel would love to talk to you, please feel free to contact us via twitter on @worldsteel_andy or share your opinion with us below.

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  • We all agree that decarbonization is necessary in the world of steel, but this is not achieved only by programming the future waiting for new technologies to fall as a mature fruit. Almost everything is based on creating an absurd but substantial business to buy and sell CO2 and talk and wait. Just talk and wait. And what is done in the meantime?
    To mitigate the adverse effects of coal combustion I propose a solution, until achieving the appropriate technology, which will also contribute to improving environmental conditions.
    The proposal is to impose a “pragmatic environmental canon” forcing all steelmakers to PLANT and MAINTAIN ONE tree for every 10,000? tons of steel produced.
    There are currently steel manufacturers that carry out this action symbolically.
    Over time it would be nice to say… let’s go to the forest of… (name of the steelmaker).
    Bucolic? I do not think so. Easy and effective.
    In this context, only an Entity of the prestige of the World Steel Association and each of the Countries Steel Associations may promote this initiative.
    If it were not so, unfortunately, we can say that the very few trees that remain do not let us see the forest.
    Do not you believe so?
    ONE tree for every…how many tons?

  • Hi Tello – Thanks for your comment – you are right that forests are able to sequester CO2 into biomass, this is the reason that the use of sustainably managed biomass in thermal power stations instead of coal is considered as renewable energy. Some of our members use biomass and char in their steelmaking processes, and others are considering wider use as part of their carbon management strategies.

    One of the challenges is the relatively slow rate that trees absorb carbon dioxide – a typical single tree can take up to 40 years to absorb one tonne. Without having done the maths my feeling is that if we were to try to offset all of our industry’s emissions we would be looking at creating unfeasibly vast forests at a time when land use pressures associated with bio-resources are under considerable scrutiny.

    My personal view is that a portfolio of breakthrough technologies will emerge – these will include the likes of CCS, Hydrogen reduction, the use of sustainably harvested biomass where it makes sense. It is also conceivable that forest offsets could play a role.


  • The only solution is to generate enough energy without use of carbon viz renewables, nuclear, etc. If energy is available at affordable price, the technology can be based on hydrogen/electrolysis, etc. If ‘Fusion’ succeeds, it will be a great breakthrough.

  • For longer that I have been watching energy fusion has generally been “20 years away”! It never seems get any nearer, despite massive investments. I agree though – if it can be made to work it is a game changer.

    Hydrogen will be one part of the puzzle, and you are right renewables/nuclear combined with electrolysis is one way to make it, and is the situation SSAB and voestalpine are both basing their low carbon breakthrough pilots on. In fact it emerged as the most dominant source of Hydrogen in Shell’s influential “Sky” scenario which delivers global carbon neutrality by 2070.

    The other way to make hydrogen is from natural gas, this is largely what happens, and it is much cheaper than electrolysis. The problem is it isn’t zero carbon – you do need CCS to be available to store the resulting CO2.

    We can potentially continue to use carbon as a reductant in some places if CCS becomes available at scale. CCS has been a troubled technology though, and its deployment (according to IEA) continues to lag where it should be.

    All things considered it is all rather uncertain, which is why I feel a balanced portfolio of breakthrough technology development and deployment will probably serve us best long term.

    Thanks for your comment. Andy

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