The last few weeks have been pretty torrid for supporters of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology as two large scale projects – The ROAD project and the Kemper County Energy Facility were summarily cancelled.
While CCS is widely recognised by the likes of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as significantly reducing the cost of decarbonising global energy systems, it remains deeply unloved, both by most of the Environmental movement and seemingly by Governments, who have failed to implement policies that enable CCS while yet promoting and subsiding renewable energy.
Advocates will point out that most of the CO2 emissions from integrated steelmaking are currently unavoidable, and CCS is the best developed of a small number of technologies that have the potential to significant reduce emissions from the sector.
The Emirates Steel Industries plant in Abu Dhabi is unique in that up to 800,000 tonnes of CO2 from the ironmaking process are captured, and injected into mature oil fields resulting in very low CO2 emissions per tonne of steel. But the case for this depended on enhanced oil recovery and this will not help the great majority of the steel industry.
The steel industry is therefore interested in CCS but understands it is not a magic bullet for the industry’s emissions problem. Even if capture technology was available and affordable, it seems unlikely that many steelmakers would be in a position to invest in CCS transportation and storage infrastructure. Steel is heavily traded and regulators minded to impose CCS on local steelmakers would quickly come across international competition issues.
Firstly, we need to ensure we run our existing operations as well and as efficiently as possible. Today’s best steelmaking plants have optimised energy use and will continue to improve by making sure that new investments take advantage of the most efficient technology that is available. With an eye on the longer term we must invest in and stay engaged with the developers of potential breakthrough technology. This includes CCS but also hydrogen reduction which is the subject of active research and development in Europe, Korea, and China.
Steelmakers need to continue to innovate, and produce advanced products and solutions that will enable society to meet increasingly challenging emissions reduction targets. For example, high strength steels reduce the weight of trucks allowing them to carry more goods for the same amount of CO2 emissions per km, improved electrical steels produce much more efficient transformers and motors, and renewable energy infrastructure is built from and enabled by steel products.
Lastly policy makers should be encouraged to consider the decarbonisation needs of the steel industry as they develop their own policies and plans. While steelmakers cannot be expected to directly invest in CCS infrastructure, the provision of a CO2 collection and disposal network, or access to hydrogen in industrial quantities could ultimately enable broader decarbonisation of the industry.