10 questions about green steel

Green steel is a relatively new term that refers to steel that is produced in an environmentally friendly way. Traditional steel production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but green steel aims to reduce the environmental impact by using renewable energy and sustainable production methods. As sustainability becomes an increasingly important factor in many industries, the demand for green steel is expected to grow.

In this article, we will explore the concept of green steel and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this innovative material.

1. What is green steel and how is it produced?

Green steel is a type of steel that is produced without the use of fossil fuels, resulting in a lower carbon footprint during production[1][2]. The benchmark for a carbon footprint is typically based on producing steel from iron ore using a blast furnace; green steel reduces this footprint by implementing alternative technologies[2]. One such technology is the use of “green hydrogen,” which emits only water when burned and can help reduce the steel industry’s carbon footprint[1].

The production process for green steel varies from producer to producer, but there are a few standard applications.

The most promising green steel manufacturing process uses electricity from renewable sources to create the metal. This method was used by SSAB, a metal-making company in Sweden, to produce the first fossil fuel-free steel in a trial process. The company made the metal for Volvo Group to use for truck manufacturing[3].

H2 Green Steel is another company that produces green steel in a fully integrated, digitalized, and automated greenfield steel plant. The decarbonization of the industry is necessary, and disruptive technology will be the key enabler. By producing green steel in an end-to-end digitalized production process using electricity from renewable sources, H2 Green Steel aims to reduce Europe’s industrial CO2 emissions by 25%[4].

Electra develops an ore dissolution and iron conversion system that uses renewable electricity to enable low-temperature aqueous metallurgical processes for producing relatively pure metallic iron for green steel production[5].

Boston Metal (Boston Electrometallurgical) decarbonizes steel production using clean electricity. Their technology, called Molten Oxide Electrolysis (MOE), has received significant investment from companies like Microsoft and ArcelorMittal. Boston Metal’s MOE process is coal-free and emissions-free, and it has the potential to eliminate around 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions[6].



Using green energy resources to produce steel
Using green energy resources to produce steel

2. How does green steel differ from traditional steel?

Green steel differs from traditional steel in that it is produced using less energy or with a minimum carbon footprint[1]. Traditional steel production requires coal in the process of making steel, which produces major carbon emissions[1]. Green steel is manufactured without the use of fossil fuels, and so-called “green hydrogen” is one solution that could help reduce the steel industry’s carbon footprint[2].

The most promising green steel manufacturing process is the hydrogen-based direct reduction of iron ore, which involves chemically reducing the iron oxide in iron ore to metallic iron using hydrogen gas[3]. However, green steel will be more costly than conventional steel because it uses more expensive production methods[4].

3. What are the benefits of transitioning to green steel production?

Transitioning to green steel production has several benefits. Green steel significantly reduces emissions and can utilize a constant source of renewable energy[1]. It does not affect the quality of end products, making it a potential replacement for traditional steel across applications[1].

The use of “green hydrogen” is one solution that could help reduce the steel industry’s carbon footprint[2]. Steel production from scrap requires around one-eighth of the energy produced from iron ore, mainly in the form of electricity, rather than fossil fuels[3]. Successful implementation of greener steel production methods has the potential to reduce direct and indirect emissions[4]. Hydrogen-based steelmaking is a common technology associated with greener steel production, which relies on hydrogen as an alternative to coal or natural gas[5].

Overall, transitioning towards more sustainable methods of producing steel is crucial in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.

4. How does the production of green steel affect the environment?

The production of traditional steel has a significant impact on the environment, including air emissions, wastewater contaminants, hazardous wastes, and solid waste[1]. Steel production is also a major contributor to global warming, adding over 3.3 million tons annually to global emissions[2].

Green steel production can help reduce the environmental impact of steel by using alternative methods that emit fewer greenhouse gases[3]. Sustainable and green steel production is a crucial part of reaching net-zero carbon emission targets[3]. While total CO2 emissions from the iron and steel sector have risen over the past decade due to increases in steel demand and energy requirements[4], green steel can help reduce these emissions and make the industry more environmentally friendly[5].

5. How does green steel production reduce emissions?

Green steel production reduces emissions by introducing non-fossil fuels to create iron pellets and using renewable electricity to turn sponge iron and scrap into steel, removing fossil fuels from the process[1]. Renewable electricity, low-carbon hydrogen, and CO2 infrastructure also lessen the carbon intensity of steelmaking[2].

Hydrogen can replace fossil fuels in the manufacture of iron pellets and carbon purification process, reducing emissions as a result[3].

Recycling is another way to reduce emissions in steel production since steel is recyclable, and about 22% of globally produced steel was made by recycling[4].

Overall, green steel production methods rely on alternative energy sources that emit fewer greenhouse gases than traditional methods, making them crucial in reducing emissions and mitigating climate change.

6. How much do emissions decrease with green steel production?

Green steel production can significantly reduce emissions compared to traditional methods. Emissions from steel must be reduced by 50% by 2050 and then continue to fall to meet the world’s climate goals, according to the International Energy Agency[1].

Short-term CO2 emission reductions can be achieved mostly through energy efficiency improvements and increased scrap collection to enable more scrap-based steel production[2].

A new manufacturing technique could drastically reduce the footprint of one of our dirtiest materials[3]. While the injection of green hydrogen into blast furnaces can reduce carbon emissions by up to 20 percent, this does not offer carbon neutrality[4]. However, switching to green steel would reduce production by 50%, which reveals that with current practice, the quantity and quality of steel produced would reduce significantly under a zero-emission carbon budget[5].

Overall, transitioning towards more sustainable methods of producing steel is crucial in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.

7. What are some challenges in transitioning to green steel production?

Transitioning to green steel production faces several challenges. One of the main challenges is fine-tuning existing technology, scaling up production capacity, and having abundant supplies of low-carbon materials[1].

Steel producers are evaluating decarbonization strategies, but the cost of green hydrogen remains a challenge[2]. Green hydrogen prices are expected to halve over the next ten years[2].

Another challenge is creating markets for “green steel” products[3]. While sustainable and green steel production is crucial in reaching net-zero carbon emission targets, it can be challenging to produce high-quality green steel due to poor sorting and contamination issues[4].

8. What are the main challenges in scaling up green steel production?

Scaling up green steel production faces several challenges, including the availability of low-carbon hydrogen[1]. Producing massive amounts of green or blue hydrogen is required to scale up this technology[1]. Fine-tuning existing technology, increasing production capacity, and having abundant supplies of low-carbon materials are also necessary for a green steel future[2]. The cost of producing green hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions remains a challenge for scaling up green steel production[3].

Increasing the share of electric arc furnace-based steel production will play a key role in decarbonizing the steel industry, but this role will be challenging due to the high capital costs and limited availability of scrap metal[4]. Steelmakers face escalating pressure from governments and investors to reduce emissions, but transitioning to green steel production requires significant investment and technological advancements[5].

9. What is the current state of green steel production?

Green steel production is still in its early stages, but there are ongoing efforts to increase its production. Current steel production generates around 8% of global CO2 emissions[1]. Steelmaking accounts for 7 to 11 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, making it one of the largest industrial sources of atmospheric pollution[2]. However, some progress has been made towards green steel production. Around 31% of current steelmaking capacity uses electric furnaces, and this percentage is expected to increase as more capacity is constructed[3].

In the Net Zero Scenario, steel demand is around 7% lower in 2030 than in a baseline scenario that does not consider climate change mitigation measures[4]. While green steel production is still facing challenges such as the availability of low-carbon hydrogen and scaling up production capacity, there are ongoing efforts to transition towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly methods of producing steel[5].

10. Which countries are leading in green steel production?

The five largest steel-producing companies, including ArcelorMittal, Baowu, Nippon, HBIS, and POSCO, have at least one project on the Tracker’s list[1]. Recently announced projects include SALCOS (Germany), Liberty Steel DRI plant (France), Iberdrola – H2 Green Steel (Iberian Peninsula), or Green[2]. When looking at the entire steel industry, Italy, the US, and Turkey have the lowest CO2 emissions while Ukraine, India, and China have the highest CO2 emissions[3]. As countries work towards long-term net-zero goals, heavy industry has come under scrutiny as one of the highest-emitting sectors. Steel in particular has been identified as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions[4].

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