Blog: How is the steel industry meeting the challenge of climate change?

How is the steel industry meeting the challenge of climate change?

How is the steel industry meeting the challenge of climate change?

Henk Reimink, Director, Industry Excellence, worldsteel

30 May 2018

The steel industry is ready to meet the global challenge of climate change by reducing energy and emission intensity across the industry.

The industry has access to technologies to manage most common emissions (SOx, NOx, dust, heavy metals) that can meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

Mitigation of CO2 emissions still elude the industry, as the chemical process of converting iron ore to metallic iron requires carbon as a reducing agent, and to provide energy to generate the extreme temperatures needed for the reaction to occur. The blast furnace process has been improved over the past decades and, with the introduction of smart or intelligent manufacturing, it will become even more efficient.

The challenge is being pursued on four fronts:

  • Ensuring the raw materials used in the iron making process or hot metal production is of a level of quality that minimises its use (iron ore, coking coal) and maximises resource efficiency.
  • Transfer of best practice performance across the industry to reduce the energy intensity of the steelmaking process as this affects CO2 emissions. Energy intensity can be influenced by many factors, which are manageable, as many organisations have proven.

The chart shows typical operating site reliability performance with the best-operating plants near the reference level.

Top performing sites


  • Implementation of industry 4.0, smart or intelligent manufacturing as early as possible for the most energy-intensive processes. Evidence shows that smart control systems reduce variation making the process stable and efficient. This will be the case for any process. The priority is to introduce this in the most energy-intensive areas to industry 4.0 as soon as practical to have the biggest impact.
  • Investment in breakthrough technology needs to increase significantly to achieve the tight timeline for the CO2 emission reduction needed. Recent breakthrough programmes and technologies include ULCOS, which led to the HIsarna process in Europe, COURSE50 in Japan, the American Iron and Steel Institute programme in the US, and company-specific investments by POSCO in South Korea, China Steel Corporation in Taiwan, China, and Baowu in mainland China. 

    Two recent projects using hydrogen as the reducing agent instead of carbon have been launched and show promise (HYBRIT in Sweden by SSAB and partners, H2FUTURE in Austria by voestalpine and partners). The reduction reaction is rapid and it requires more energy to create the heat (1300 – 1500°C) as well as generate the hydrogen. This means the energy (electricity) for the heat and hydrogen generation must be carbon-free for it to be effective in reducing CO2 intensity in steelmaking.

All the above contribute to meeting the challenge of climate change towards the 2°C scenario.

To progress the research and development for breakthrough technology, significant funding is required to support the research teams, and this cannot be supported by industry alone. Government and regional financial support (especially cross-border collaborative government support) will be needed for effective progress to be made.

In the interim, carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies will be required to store or use CO2 in other applications if society wishes to reach the 2°C scenario. These two processes will be needed until more radical breakthrough technologies become available.

Add your comment here:

  • 1

    Even though CCUS & CCS are good systems for controlling carbon emissions, utilization of Hydrogen as reducing agent is the best system and there is no carbon generation during reducing the process.

    avatarN. RamanjaneyuluJun 1, 2018 11:09:42 AMReply

  • 2

    Thanks for sharing such informational post.

    avatarSohailJul 31, 2018 4:05:57 PMReply

  • 3

    A thoughtful case made for the need for strategic support for the steel industry players and partner organisations who will lead the technology development. Steel manufacture in truly colossal volumes is needed for the foreseeable future. Instead of trade wars we should encourage state aid in exchange for shared technology. The best companies will survive open sharing by developing innovative steel products and providing great service at the customer-facing end of our supply chains.

    avatarMartin DickAug 10, 2018 11:49:11 AMReply

  • 4

    Awesome efforts on how a mature industry is facing the new global challenges with technology; research, development and investments !!!!!

    avatarRaul TopolevskyAug 15, 2018 12:29:44 AMReply

  • 5

    The Blast Furnace route of iron making has three distinct process: Coke making, sinter/pellet making and making of pig iron with coke, sinter/pellet as primary input. Coke making needs thermal energy for carbonisation of coal to coke, sinter/pellet making needs thermal energy which is nothing but coke and finally Blast Furnace the ironmaking process needs thermal energy for high temperature reduction reaction with coke as reductant to make pig iron in molten state. In this entire process the source of energy is but coal and the reductant coke is nothing but coal carbonised. Hence it is fossil fuel that makes the iron be in the form of thermal energy or chemical reductant. GHG emission results from the use of fossil fuels. To combat GHG partly source of thermal energy can be Electricity the clean gift of nature to mankind. Transgression to electrical energy as key source for thermal energy may open up immediate fronts to curve GHG emission considerably. In other words application research is needed at a rapid pace to explore more intense source of energy yet clean such as microwave or plasma with transition to electrified reactors be it electric cokemaking or microwave /plasma fired sintering or plasma assisted ironmaking. In future the source of electricity needs to be from renewable resources.

    avatarSK Basu MallickApr 13, 2019 7:16:22 PMReply

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