I.n city from Woburn, Massachusetts, a suburb north of Boston, staff engineers and scientists in white coats inspected an orderly stack of brick-sized ingots, gray-cannon steel on a table in a neon-lit lab.
They looked at a batch of steel created using an innovative production method Boston metal, a company that emerged ten years ago from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hopes to drastically change the way it produces alloys over the centuries. Using electricity to separate iron from ore, the company claims it can produce carbon-free steel, offering a way to clean up one of the world’s worst industries from greenhouse gas emissions.
Steel is one of the most popular industrial materials in the world, which is an important material for engineering and construction work. 2 billion tons are produced annually. However, this wealth comes at a high price for the environment. On the share of steel production 7 to 11 percent global greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the largest industrial sources of air pollution. And because production could to rise by a third by 2050 this burden on the environment could increase.
This poses a significant challenge to address the climate crisis. United Nations I say Significant reductions in carbon emissions from industry are essential to maintain global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. To do this, by 2050 emissions in metallurgy and other heavy industries should be reduced by 93 percent, according to estimates International Energy Agency.
Faced with increasing pressure from governments and investors to reduce emissions, a number of metallurgical companies, including both large producers and startups, are experimenting with low-carbon technologies that use hydrogen or electricity instead of traditional carbon-intensive production. Some of these efforts are approaching commercial reality.
“We are talking about a capital-intensive and risky industry where failures are extremely rare,” said Chris Bataille, an energy economist at IDDRI, a research think tank in Paris. Therefore, he added, it is “exciting” that so much is happening at the same time.
However, experts agree that the transformation of global industry has been reversed $ 2.5 trillion in 2017 and works more 6 million people it will take a huge effort. In addition to practical obstacles to building new processes in time to achieve global climate goals, there are concerns about China, which produces more than half of the world’s steel and whose plans to decarbonise the metallurgical sector remain unclear.
“Of course, it is not easy to fix the decarbonisation of such an industry,” Bataille said. “But there is no choice. The future of the sector – and our climate – depends on it. “
Modern steel production involves several stages of production. Most often, iron ore is crushed and converted into agglomerate (rough solid) or granules. Separately, the coal is baked and turned into coke. The ore and coke are then mixed with limestone and fed into a large blast furnace, where a stream of extremely hot air is fed from below. At high temperatures coke burns, and the mixture produces liquid iron known as cast iron or blast furnace iron. The molten material then enters the oxygen furnace, where it is exploded with pure oxygen through a water-cooled lance, forcing carbon off to leave the crude steel as the final product.
This method, first patented by English engineer Henry Bessemer in the 1850s, produces carbon emissions in a variety of ways. First, chemical reactions in the blast furnace lead to emissions into the atmosphere, as the carbon trapped in coke and limestone binds to oxygen in the air, creating carbon dioxide as a by-product. In addition, fossil fuels are usually burned to heat the blast furnace and to power sinter and granular plants, as well as coke ovens, emitting carbon dioxide in the process.
As much as 70 percent world steel is produced in this way by generating almost two tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of steel produced. The the remaining 30 percent almost all are produced in electric arc furnaces that use electric current to melt steel – mostly recycled scrap – and have much lower CO₂ emissions than blast furnaces.
But because of limited scrap stocks, not all future demand can be met this way, said Jeffrey Risman, director of industry programs and head of modeling at San Francisco-based Energy Innovation. With the right policies, recycling could provide up to 45 percent of global demand in 2050, he said. “The rest will be happy with the forging of ore-based primary steel, where most of the emissions come from.”
Thus, “if the metallurgical industry is serious” refers to its climate commitments, he added, “it will have to fundamentally change the way the material is produced – and do it fairly quickly.”