The stain of stainless steel

The stain of stainless steel

4 June 2021 0 By Facto Edizioni

/ The new frontier of decarbonisation: green steel /

While we all love a wooden coaster, it is a truth universally acknowledged that, without steel, many of the rides that people love, from funfairs to amusement parks, could not exist. Steel is ubiquitous in the world, essential in engineering and construction well beyond the borders of our industry.

And yet, environmentally, it is hardly acceptable. After power generation, steel manufacturing is the largest cause of carbon dioxide in the world, accounting for about 8 per cent of all fossil fuel emissions. According to the World Steel Association, in 2020 the world produced about 1,864 million tons of steel, and for each ton of steel, one to two tonnes of carbon dioxide were sent into the atmosphere. As such, steel production is becoming a focus point in the fight against climate change and, finally, steps are being taken to bring green steel to the world.

But why is steel production so environmentally-unfriendly? The reason is in the methods used. Steel mostly derived from iron ore: to melt it and separate iron from the oxygen that is also in the ore (in the form of iron oxide), a significant amount of energy is required. Presently, this is mostly done in furnaces heated to over 1000°C and powered with carbon-based fuel such as coal or natural gas, using coke (a coal-based material) as reductant to remove the oxygen. The process has been long unchanged, and while alternatives are being studied, their cost until now seemed prohibitive. “These technologies will increase the cost of our steel. It is not cheap, and our customers should be ready to pay,” said Lakshmi Mittal, executive chairman of ArcelorMittal, Europe’s biggest steelmaker.

Still, these new technologies have been explored for more than a decade, now. Italian multinational Danieli, a leader in supplying manufacturing plants for the metal industry, has built a hybrid plant in the USA (to open in 2022), using solar power as one of the fuels. They have also developed the method that allows plants to use natural gas or methane as reductant, instead of coke. The idea is to further replace methane with hydrogen, for “an even greener evolution,” said technical director Rolando Paolone. “In the manufacturing process, hydrogen bonds with oxygen, producing water as waste product.” But the company believes this may still be years before becoming widespread: “The real problem, today, is getting hydrogen at a competitive price.”

Whatever the costs, the EU’s Green Deal plan aims…

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