What is green steel?

Global Mining Research has a nice primer on the emergence of green steel.

Green Steel – Why is it relevant?

The production of steel is one of the most polluting industries from a CO2 perspective, representing in the order of 8% of global emissions. For the miners ESG reporting has never been as relevant and for an iron ore or coal company this is critical as investors examine Scope 3 emissions (the result of activities commodity-purchasing organisations undertake).

The concept of Green Steel is to replace the use of coke (and thereby coking coal) as a reducing agent and fuel in the steel making process, which is at its heart 2Fe2O3 + 3C = 4Fe + 3CO2. There are a few potential technologies here, these include Polymer Injection, Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology (HYBRIT) and the concept of Molten Oxide Electrolysis (MOE).  (Similarly, the aluminium industry is trying to replace the carbon anode in the electrolytic process).

In terms of drivers for pushing these changes, in addition to those of the miners and their shareholders, there is the political angle to consider. This includes the recent Biden win in the US, increasing the western environmental agenda, countries setting emission targets, COVID recovery initiatives, and trade wars, all of which make green technologies very topical now.

From a company perspective, FMG has been talking most about the application, but it is all very much in the embryonic stage despite the publicity. However, FMG plans, by the end of this year, to commence construction of a pilot plant (undisclosed technology / process) which is more of a commitment than other miners. Other corporates have been less vocal but still active, for example Boston Metals recently raised US$50M for its MOE process with both BHP and Vale investors.

How far away are these technologies?

Many of these projects are still in preliminary stages of research and development. One such example is Polymer Injection Technology developed by Professor Sahajwalla and her team at the Uni of NSW. As an alternate to coking coal, recycled tyres and plastics are added to a blast furnace at high temperatures to provide the carbon needed to make steel. Another, Swedish technology under development by JV partners SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall is called HYBRIT and aims to use hydrogen gas as the main reductant, to produce sponge iron and water as a by-product. A third technology called MOE uses renewable energy-driven electrolysis of iron ores to produce iron and oxygen (Fe2O3 + e = 2Fe + 3/2O2). Most of these technologies are in a pilot testing stage, and it could well be over a decade until there is a commercial outcome.

What are risks and implications? 

There are the usual risks involved with adopting any new technologies, which include: funding, the ability to commercialise the new technologies, and potential delays/overruns. In Australia, we don’t have a great track record with new technologies and for those with long memories there was BHP’s Hot Briquetted Iron (HBI), RIO’s HiSmelt and Australian Magnesium Corp, for example. In the case of the HBI plant in Port Hedland in the 1990s the plant was expected to cost A$1.5B, however this blew out to A$2.5B. The plant consistently underperformed and produced a maximum of 1.7Mt in its final year of life in 2004 and was scuttled due to operational and safety issues.  The other major implication for Green Steel will of course be metallurgical or coking coal consumption, which in the long term would hit the coal miners the most, along with BHP, GLEN and TECK of the big caps.

Australia is a very modest steel producer, but the key exporter of iron ore and coal products globally. Numerous vested interests will play a part, including protecting the tens of thousands of workers employed in the iron ore / coal industry which sometimes clashes with evolving climate policies (with the private sector taking the lead) and with potential for a 2021 Federal election. All this makes for an interesting mix. Nevertheless, Green Steel is a fascinating topic, and one no doubt we will come back to discuss further.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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    • 8% is a lot of not really much. Particularly since carbon dioxide concentration by volume in the earths atmosphere is 0.04%. Yes a tiny weeny amount. Green house commercial gardeners need to pump carbon dioxide through the greenhouses to get adequate level for plant growth.

      Really atmospheric concentration is buggerall for a photosynthesising plant. Photosynthesis is a miracle of life to catch sun photons and convert to molecular energy and bind carbon dioxide gas into organic molecules, like glucose thence all the rest.

      In the past when lush vegetation covered Aus the co2 level was higher.

      • TheLambKingMEMBER

        WARNING: The post above includes:
        – Misinformation
        – A lack of understanding of maths and the effects of compounding growth.

        • Pray tell, what is incorrect.
          Pray expound on compounding growth in relation to, time scale of 100,000 years, ice ages, 1100 AD, industrial revolution, volcanic emissions in 2020 and the reduction achieved by lockdown, cessation/ reduction in vehicle use, aircraft and manufacture last year…very minor.

          • TheLambKingMEMBER

            Pray tell, what is incorrect.

            I am not the one who is arguing against peer reviewed Science. There is no point elaborating and pointing to the skepticalscience.com website that details exactly, with referenced to peer reviewed science that debunks pretty much everything the Deniers post here. You guys just say it is an activist site – when it is representing the position of EVERY SCIENCE ORGANISATION IN THE WORLD.

            Maths 101: Earth is (mostly) a closed system. CO2 ppm in the atmosphere, was (mostly) in equilibrium – the earth would sync (via trees & oceans etc) the amount of CO2 released (volcanoes, farts, decompositions etc) each year. Humans are ADDING an ADDITIONAL amount of CO2 into the atmosphere every year above what can be abated. So since the Industrial Revolution we are adding CO2 into the atmosphere at a compounding rate. We are not on track to stop this. The end state is that we have an atmosphere like Venus – where it is further away from the sun than Mercury, but it has a hotter climate because of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. But, hey, some fossil fuel companies are making some pretty sweet profits. And some of you guys are earning some good coin that you will proud to show to your Grandkids about how you interfered with taking action on climate change. Or just thought, by reading a couple of (mostly) paid for blog sites that you know better than Scientists or have spent their whole lives studying this stuff. It is like sitting in a plane during the storm and demanding that you should be flying the plane because of something you read on twitter that you know more than the pilot who has been flying for the last 30 year. Just amazingly ridiculous.

          • “Earth is (mostly) a closed system. CO2 ppm in the atmosphere, was (mostly) in equilibrium”
            Not on any realistic timeframe for the earth. That’s like saying the climate has been perfectly stable until we started burning fossil fuels.

          • TheLambKingMEMBER

            Not on any realistic timeframe for the earth. That’s like saying the climate has been perfectly stable until we started burning fossil fuels.

            Mate, I am dumbing it down and simplifying it so anyone can understand it. The ‘mostly’ covers the detail that can take pages to explain and just confuses the issues.

            Earth’s climate and CO2 levels ARE mostly stable from a practical point of view – it changes SLOWLY over 10’s of thousands of years (besides a few catastrophic events.) The FACT that CO2 levels and temperature rises are happening so quickly is what is causing the alarm. But simplistically, the effect ‘looks’ like a major change to a ‘stable’ system.

          • @TheLambbKing. As you are evidently interested you could look at cycles even just the last 6000 years. If not than last couple of thousand years, it’s highly interesting, particularly if graphed in association with rise and fall of empires like sumerians, phoenicians romans and with the climate induced migrations.
            I found duckduckgo gives information that Google does not. Thi adds to your information.

          • TheLambKingMEMBER

            As you are evidently interested you could look at cycles even just the last 6000 years.

            Mate, you are saying that you know better that the collective wisdom of the world’s scientists! WOW

          • @ TheLambKing. No I am not. Another adhominen. You assume all scientists agree with you, not so. Nor others.
            The Chinese have 5000 years of climate records. Xi Jinping got going he knows what is coming., there has been massive starvation in China in past cycles. I have no emotional attachment to this I don’t care. Perceptions of truths change. Remember Lamarck, Wikipedia scientists are still denying him in the face of the always self evident and now intensive hot research in epigenetics.
            The climate of the planets in our solar system and the earth change regularly in cycles and challenges life here periodically. Climate changes. Then changes again. Short term like 300 years and long term.

    • I lost interest in steel years ago. Last time I looked in 2017 Russia had well over a hundred patents for basalt. It’s stunning, lighter than steel, never corrodes, does not conduct electricity or EMF. It can be made into wall insulation, a stuffing as bats or blown in. Batts that do not itch and do NOT hold moisture.

      Basalt can be made into wire, sheets, RSJ but basalt, can be made into whatever wanted. I would love basalt window frames and windows of the steel framed form….inert, not heat transference, no expansion. No expansion if used in concrete. Of course it’s cheaper as it’s extremely plentiful, every lava flow produces more on the earths surface.

      As ex serial owner builder I dream of next home made of hempcrete and basalt, and good Aus hardwood used with respect, to build a thousand year home protective from noise, heat flow, mould, and emf, Both hempcrete and basalt last indefinitely,
      Naturally Aus architects not interested,

  1. Could the chemists here provide names to the compounds. My yr 11 chemistry is failing me, 26 years later. I didn’t get past Ferrous Oxide.

  2. Decarbonising steelmaking will be hard. We have centuries of development to the current Bessemer process, leading to efficiently making everything from cheap reo to super hard NiFe (Google it, Swampy). ‘Efficient’ provided the air pollution is disregarded, which we can no longer tolerate.

    Prof Sahajawalla’s burning tyres and plastic instead of coking coal is cute, though likely more polluting.

    Read the World Bank’s forecast for metals in a low carbon future. Once you pick your jaw up from the floor, y’all will want to buy metals stonks.