How the Steel Industry Is Trying To Say "Bye Bye"To Carbon Emissions

Steel manufacturing is energy intensive. That means it creates a significant amount of carbon emissions. Can the metal be created without those carbon emissions? Siemens and other European companies seem to think so, as they are looking at making steel without carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

Siemens, a German company, is at the forefront. Germany made 42.7 million tons of steel in 2015, making it the largest producer of raw steel in the EU. It is the seventh largest steel producer in the world. The German steel industry accounted for 6.4 percent of Germany’s total carbon emissions in 2014. Siemens and other partners in the energy, chemical and steel industries started a joint project known as Carbon2Chem. Officially launched in June, the project is supported by a $55.9 million grant from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced in steel mills, including methane and nitrogen. After steel production, electricity is created from the GHGs by burning them in power plants. However, doing so generates carbon emissions. Carbon2Chem project partners are looking into converting the GHGs into reusable materials for the chemical industry instead of burning them. Chemical companies like Covestro, Evonik and Linde are co-partners on the project and they are looking into innovative ways to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, a process called electrolysis, with solar and wind power to produce chemicals such as methanol, one of the most widely used organic chemicals. Most of the carbon needed to produce methanol currently comes from fossil fuels. 

Siemens is a leader in hydrogen electrolysis, having operated an electrolysis plant in Mainz, Germany since summer 2015. The electrolysis plant is the world’s largest, consuming up to six megawatts (MW) of power. Carbon2Chem estimates that it will take about 15 years before the concept can be applied on an industrial scale. When it does, it has the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing carbon emissions globally. If the carbon emissions of steels mills could be reduced to nearly zero, carbon emissions would be reduced by up to 50 million tons per year. 

Steel is an important part of modern society. It provides the means for the infrastructure that is all around us and is necessary to minimize the impacts of natural disasters. As cities grow to keep up with population growth, they will need vast amounts of steel. The steel industry has already significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions over the past couple of decades through energy efficiency improvements and new technologies and practices. 

Carbon2Chem is not the first project that attempts to reduce carbon emissions in the steel industry. A Japanese project called COURSE50 is attempting to use innovative technologies. Started in 2007 by then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the project’s goal is to develop technologies to reduce carbon emissions from steel manufacturing by 30 percent. The Pacific Rim countries produced a technology handbook called State of the Art Clean Technologies (SOACT) to share energy efficient steel making processes and technology. 

Photo: ThyssenKrup/Carbon2Chem