Decarbonization of Hard-to-Abate Industries like Steel Is a Priority for All Stakeholders

Leading the Steel Industry's Decarbonization Journey

The steel industry plays a vital role in the global economy, providing the foundation for countless infrastructure projects, manufacturing activities and everyday products. But as the world continues to prioritize sustainability and combat climate change, the steel industry faces the pressing need for innovative and environmentally friendly solutions in its production processes. 

Accounting for approximately 9% of all CO2 emissions, the global steel industry has been identified as a “hard to decarbonize business sector,” primarily due to both its dependence on carbon in many aspects of production, such as ore reduction, slag foaming and general heating, as well as the low CO2 concentration of many waste streams.

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Processing Routes of Steelmaking

There are two main processing routes used to make steel tonnage today. The Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) route commonly uses various combinations of scrap, Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) and pig iron, generates 0.3-0.7 tonne CO2/tonne steel, and is considered the route to the lowest CO2 emissions available today. The integrated steelmaking or Blast Furnace to Basic Oxygen Furnace (BF-BOF) route typically generates near or sometimes above 2.0 tonne CO2/tonne steel and makes up the majority of steel processed worldwide today at 71%.

Preference Remains for Highly Carbon-Intense Integrated BF-BOF Steelmaking

The inherently lower amount of CO2/tonne steel generated by the EAF route has led several integrated producers to shift to EAF. But this shift will quickly confront the law of diminishing returns. Scrap, as well as clean electrical power, will be in short supply. In addition, even if DRI is blended into the raw material mix, it too will face supply issues and rising costs. So, while there will be some substitution of blast furnace-based steelmaking with DRI-based steelmaking, the integrated production route will continue to dominate steelmaking for the foreseeable future. The primary challenge for the blast furnace is its place in overall CO2 emissions as shown to the right.

The desire for continuation of the blast furnace is based on its place as the low-cost producer of the highest quality iron in the world. Still, blast furnace CO2 emissions must be dramatically reduced.


Limited Options for Blast Furnace Decarbonization

Facing these daunting challenges, in addition to the need to meet regulatory requirements and drive operational efficiency, the steel industry is searching for pathways to rapidly—and ambitiously—decarbonize through sustainable, cost-effective technologies. But for steelmakers, transitioning to more sustainable operations is especially difficult. Why?

  • One of the primary technical hurdles is the reliance on metallurgical coke as the preferred fuel and reductant for the blast furnace. The traditional use of coke not only contributes to carbon emissions but also poses difficulties in achieving decarbonization targets.
  • Blast furnaces generate a significant volume of top gas, which, despite its abundance, has a low heating value, making it challenging to extract value from this waste stream.
  • The current practice of distributing top gas to multiple usage points throughout the steelworks adds complexity to the decarbonization process. 

Hydrogen Offers Potential for Decarbonization

In light of these challenges, many industry experts and stakeholders have turned their attention to hydrogen as a potential solution, recognizing its ability to address both technical and environmental concerns in the steelmaking process.

Hydrogen holds significant value in the steelmaking process, offering numerous advantages in terms of both operational efficiency and environmental sustainability. Hydrogen, in particular, has emerged as a promising alternative to traditional carbon-based fuels due to its clean-burning properties and potential for reducing carbon emissions. By utilizing hydrogen as a fuel and reductant in steelmaking, producers can significantly decrease the carbon footprint associated with the process. Hydrogen can also enhance steel quality by reducing impurities and improving control over the metallurgical process. Syngas, a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, can be utilized as a valuable feedstock for various downstream processes, such as the production of chemicals and fuels.

Limitations of Legacy Hydrogen Production

The constraints of historical hydrogen production have posed significant challenges in terms of scale, cost and carbon emissions. The most prevalent method of large-scale hydrogen production in North America, Steam Methane Reforming (SMR), has been constrained by its significant carbon footprint, generating substantial new CO2 emissions. Conversely, traditional electrolysis solutions face challenges due to their high water and renewable electricity requirements, which are currently not available at a competitive cost. In the context of integrated steel plants, where electrolysis projects are typically implemented, the demand for renewable power must be met consistently on a 24/7 basis, often exceeding 1 GW. These constraints have hindered the widespread adoption of historical hydrogen production methods, necessitating the exploration of innovative technologies.

A Ready-to-Use Solution: Producing Hydrogen from Process Gas

Our groundbreaking product, H2GenTM, offers an innovative solution that harnesses the hydrogen generation potential of process gas in steelmaking. By converting and concentrating valuable streams of hydrogen and concentrated CO2 from process gases, particularly blast furnace top gas, H2GenTM unlocks substantial benefits for steel producers:

  • H2GenTM provides a lower-cost hydrogen generation option, enabling steelmakers to significantly reduce their operational costs associated with fuel consumption.
  • The availability of lower-cost hydrogen can enhance the competitiveness of steelmakers while aligning with sustainability goals.
  • The capability of H2GenTM to simultaneously concentrate CO2 into a single enriched stream, ready for low-cost capture, presents an additional advantage. This feature enables steel producers to better tackle the challenge of carbon emissions effectively.
  • By capturing and concentrating CO2, steelworks can streamline the process of carbon capture and storage (CCS), facilitating compliance with increasingly stringent emissions regulations.

Dive Deeper into H2GenTM

Our groundbreaking product delivers lower-cost hydrogen generation and CO2 concentration from blast furnace top gas.

Hydrogen and syngas play a crucial role in the steelmaking process, offering multiple benefits in terms of operational efficiency, steel quality, and environmental sustainability. Our H2GenTM technology stands at the forefront of this paradigm shift, providing steel producers with a reliable and cost-effective solution that not only generates lower-cost hydrogen but also concentrates CO2 for efficient capture and utilization. Utilizing H2GenTM, steelmakers can embark on a path toward more economically viable, sustainable operations. 

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