“We’re happening to zero.”
That’s what Thomas Hörnfeldt, vice chairman of sustainable enterprise on the Swedish-based steel-maker SSAB, informed The Narwhal of his firm’s carbon emissions.
Hörnfeldt spoke to me on a video name from his workplace in Stockholm, a digital backdrop of a picturesque Swedish canal flickering behind his workplace chair. He proudly shows a small piece of what he described as SSAB’s first fossil-fuel-free metal on his desk.
The corporate made that pattern, no coal wanted, a 12 months in the past within the basement of a technical college in Stockholm. It’s an early step in SSAB’s dedication to utterly remove carbon air pollution from its metal manufacturing crops.
SSAB, which produces roughly 8.8 million tonnes of metal yearly at its manufacturing crops in Sweden, Finland and america, has invested in know-how that makes use of clear hydrogen rather than metallurgical coal.
Metallurgical coal has lengthy been used to fabricate metal, one of the ubiquitous supplies on the planet. Coal is conventionally used for heating and in chemical reactions to create iron, the important ingredient wanted to make metal. However because the world grapples with the local weather disaster, the metal trade’s centuries-old reliance on coal — and its huge carbon footprint — is being referred to as into query.
In response to the World Metal Affiliation, the trade is answerable for between seven and nine per cent of the global emissions created from the burning of fossil fuels.
With the Paris Settlement setting out world objectives to dramatically cut back carbon air pollution and restrict warming to lower than two levels by 2050, the metal sector is, for a lot of, subsequent up within the push to rethink age-old industries.
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“It’s a 2,000-year-old know-how that simply retains getting refined,” Chris Bataille, an adjunct professor in vitality economics at Simon Fraser College, informed The Narwhal. And, he stated, the subsequent shift for metal manufacturing might be away from utilizing coal.
That’s precisely what SSAB is doing. The corporate introduced its plans in 2016, together with two companions. The ensuing three way partnership, Hybrit, additionally contains an iron ore provider (LKAB) and an electrical energy provider (Vattenfall) — bringing the main elements of steel-making collectively below one umbrella to make use of hydrogen as an alternative of coal.
“This idea has been recognized previously and it has been achieved on a small scale,” Hörnfeldt stated. “No person has actually achieved this in an industrial setting. And that’s what we’re testing proper now.”
The primary pilot plant launched final summer season. The corporate plans to begin shutting down its coal-reliant furnaces in a matter of years.
The plans in Sweden are taking root simply because the Alberta authorities faces widespread backlash for its push to open up the province’s iconic Rocky Mountains and jap slopes to open-pit mining for steel-making coal.
‘The world is searching for steel-making coal’: Alberta vitality minister
The Alberta authorities started its fraught push for coal almost a 12 months in the past, when the province’s United Conservative Occasion authorities introduced it had achieved away with a 1976 coverage that prevented open-pit coal mining in a lot of the Rocky Mountains. New mines within the area would produce metallurgical coal, used for steel-making. Backlash ensued.
However whilst the federal government back-pedalled, it has maintained its dedication to the concept that there’s a affluent future within the metallurgical coal trade.
“There’s a super useful resource of metallurgical coal in Alberta and the world is searching for steel-making coal,” Vitality Minister Sonya Savage said in a press conference in February as she defended her authorities’s push to broaden mining alternatives.
Metallurgical coal mines, Savage added, “may also help Alberta companies meet rising world demand for metal and supply good-paying jobs for hard-working Albertans.”
The Worldwide Vitality Company has projected world demand for metal will increase by more than a third by 2050. Metal will, partly, assist construct new infrastructure corresponding to wind generators, electrical automobiles and high-speed trains within the cleaner, greener world economic system envisioned to facilitate the push to net-zero.
Because the Vitality Transition Hub, a German and Australian partnership, identified in a November 2019 report, “new metallic [is] central to the zero-carbon transition. Renewable vitality, and associated applied sciences corresponding to batteries, depend on metal … and a number of different metals.”
And whereas the Alberta authorities says it will imply a increase for the coal trade, not everybody agrees.
Blake Shaffer, assistant professor of economics on the College of Calgary, told The Narwhal in February the growth of metallurgical-coal mining in Alberta is an instance of the province “chasing the subsequent factor that’s going to die.”
“Fairly than staking some financial bets on the expansion of metallurgical coal … why don’t we turn into the chief in inexperienced steel-making?” he requested.
Whereas Alberta could also be sluggish to contemplate his pitch, different components of the world are transferring full-steam forward.
Coal is the primary contributor to the carbon air pollution produced with metal
The metal trade is the world’s largest industrial consumer of coal, in accordance with the Worldwide Vitality Company.
Metal is an alloy — a combination of iron and different metals. Pure iron is tough to seek out naturally, and coal has lengthy been important in acquiring it.
The method is technical, however right here’s the gist: primarily, coal is heated to super-high temperatures (greater than 1,000 degrees celsius) to make a carbon-dense substance referred to as coke. The coke is mixed with iron ore — iron and oxygen — in what’s often called a blast furnace.
That first half is pretty easy: it’s primary heating. “The heating half is barely 20 per cent,” Bataille defined. “It’s the chemical response of stripping the oxygen off the iron ore that’s 80 per cent of the work.”
And that’s the half you may want to succeed in again to highschool chemistry class to grasp.
Within the blast furnace, the coke reacts with the oxygen and “strips it off” the iron ore, leaving melted pure iron, a predominant ingredient of metal, defined Bataille. It’s a easy chemical response that’s important to getting pure iron.
“Then we are able to mix it with nickel and zinc and chromium and what have you ever,” Bataille stated. “And that’s metal.” That completed product stays one of many world’s most ubiquitous and vital constructing supplies, utilized in almost each constructing, automobile, machine, aircraft, ship, public transit system and bridge on the planet.
The issue is that this: in accordance with the Worldwide Vitality Company, the metal and iron trade produces extra carbon air pollution than every other heavy trade.
“If we’re going to really hit someplace between 1.5 and a couple of levels, blast furnaces must be shut down,” Bataille stated.
And SSAB plans to do precisely that.
SSAB plans ‘fossil-free metal’
SSAB has stated it goals to be the “first metal firm on this planet to convey fossil-free steel to the market” in 2026.
The corporate added it is going to be “virtually fossil free by 2045.”
“To be completely frank, we made this schedule a few years in the past, and quite a lot of issues have occurred,” Hörnfeldt, the vice chairman of sustainable enterprise, informed The Narwhal. “Personally, I imagine that that is going to occur a lot sooner.”
“Throughout the foreseeable timeframe, we’re going to shut down all our blast furnace operations.”
The plan is to make use of green hydrogen and clear electrical energy rather than coal within the manufacturing course of (extra on that later).
The corporate has stated its aim is to cut back Sweden’s carbon air pollution by 10 per cent and Finland’s by seven per cent.
Hörnfeldt stated the primary of the corporate’s 4 blast furnaces might be shuttered in 4 years on the newest.
Scrap metallic, pure gasoline additionally choices to cut back coal demand
SSAB and Hybrit will not be the one ones taking a look at methods to decarbonize metal, and hydrogen shouldn’t be the one proposed know-how.
One risk entails the elevated use of recycled metal. In response to the World Metal Affiliation, an trade group, metal will be recycled indefinitely, and not using a discount in high quality.
Since a lot of the demand for coal comes from making pure iron, utilizing recycled metal can reduce down on emissions. A know-how referred to as an electrical blast furnace — powered by electrical energy — can rework scrap metal anew once more.
With clear electrical energy, the know-how can dramatically cut back emissions. In response to the World Metal Affiliation, roughly 28 per cent of world metal is produced utilizing electrical arc furnaces, although not all of them would solely depend on scrap metal.
Turning scrap metallic into new metal in an electrical arc furnace requires electrical energy, which represents an extra alternative to decarbonize.
SSAB’s metal manufacturing in america is scrap-based, Hörnfeldt famous, including that the corporate plans to change considered one of its two U.S. crops to wash electrical energy subsequent 12 months.
However not all demand for metal will be glad with scrap. In response to the Vitality Transition Hub, “recycled metallic is more likely to provide a lot lower than half of world demand between now and 2050. … The rest of metallic demand might be met utilizing virgin supplies.”
To decarbonize virgin metal manufacturing, some gamers within the trade have turned to a different thought, involving changing coal with pure gasoline.
“There’s a know-how referred to as Midrex,” Bataille defined. Again to highschool chemistry once more: as an alternative of utilizing coking coal, pure gasoline is used to “rip the oxygen off the iron ore, leaving elemental iron.” Then that iron, produced with out coal, will be put into an electrical arc furnace, powered by clear vitality.
“That is a longtime know-how,” he added. “And it’s a lot decrease [in carbon emissions]. And there are these crops operating all around the world.”
However the thought producing probably the most pleasure — thought by advocates to be probably among the many greenest — entails utilizing simply hydrogen, like SSAB. Midrex boasts on its webpage that its crops are additionally poised to pivot to hydrogen.
In that course of, hydrogen will strip away the oxygen from iron oxide. The byproducts? The pure iron wanted for steel-making and good outdated H20.
“Consensus is rising that one of the simplest ways to make metal with out fossil fuels is with renewable hydrogen,” concluded the 2019 report from the Vitality Transition Hub.
Emissions related to hydrogen depending on the way in which it’s produced
Hydrogen is already getting used around the globe, however present hydrogen manufacturing is geared extra for different industrial makes use of, like refining oil or manufacturing fertilizer.
And clear hydrogen shouldn’t be at present produced on the scale that might be wanted for it to exchange metallurgical coal.
Many of the hydrogen produced at present is made utilizing fossil fuels, with out carbon seize know-how. When that’s the case, emissions are decrease than utilizing coal, however nonetheless nowhere close to net-zero.
To actually get to zero-emission hydrogen, the trade would wish to maneuver to hydrogen produced from water by way of electrolysis and powered by clear vitality. That’s what’s often called inexperienced hydrogen.
Hörnfeldt informed The Narwhal his firm is constructing a facility to make its personal inexperienced hydrogen, and Hybrit just lately introduced additionally it is constructing a pilot mission that can store green hydrogen 30 metres beneath the earth’s floor in a rocky cavern.
He added that Sweden’s “nearly CO2-free energy grid” — the nation depends closely on nuclear, hydro and wind energy — makes using inexperienced hydrogen simpler.
However for different components of the world, corresponding to Alberta, there’s a center floor, and that’s what’s referred to as blue hydrogen. It’s nonetheless generated from fossil fuels, however with a strong carbon seize and storage plan in place.
In response to a recent report from Clear Vitality Canada, a local weather and clear vitality program at Simon Fraser College that works to speed up an vitality transition, Canada is “amongst a small group of nations with probably the most potential for producing and exporting clear hydrogen, which might show significantly helpful in decarbonizing industries like metal.”
It’s one thing that some Albertans are very enthusiastic about.
A grand imaginative and prescient for the province was unveiled final 12 months, with the launch of the Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force. The duty power formally launched a so-called hydrogen hub or node within the Edmonton space in April, with the aim of manufacturing blue hydrogen to be used regionally and for export.
Advocates are adamant that hydrogen, no matter whether or not it’s blue or inexperienced, represents a approach of creating metal that dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of the metal trade. Others fear that blue hydrogen represents a prolonging of the province’s dependance on fossil fuels.
Both approach, as extra steel-making corporations utilizing hydrogen-based strategies enter the market, the demand for hydrogen might rise globally.
Metal producers, automotive corporations push for inexperienced metal
ArcelorMittal, which describes itself because the largest steel manufacturer in Europe, the Americas and Africa, just lately introduced plans for what it calls the “first industrial scale manufacturing” of iron produced fully with hydrogen, to be deployed at its Hamburg plant, with an annual manufacturing of 100,000 tonnes of metal.
To begin, ArcelorMittal, which produced almost 90 million tonnes of crude metal in 2019, will depend on hydrogen generated from fossil fuels, however the firm will swap to inexperienced hydrogen because it turns into accessible and economical. Utilizing hydrogen instead of coal, it has stated, is “a part of our Europe-wide ambition to be carbon impartial by 2050.”
Then there’s the American startup, Boston Metallic. It bought its begin on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how, and boasts that it’s working towards “a world with no air pollution from metals manufacturing.”
The corporate makes use of a course of referred to as molten oxide electrolysis, which skips coal and might make metal straight from iron ore using electricity alone. NASA was an early associate, and is exploring the concept of utilizing the method to produce metals from “lunar resources” for “lunar in-space manufacturing.”
Right here on earth, some corporations are beginning to demand greener choices for his or her supplies. German automotive producer BMW, which processes half 1,000,000 tonnes of metal yearly in its European crops, has made plans to put money into lower-emission metal.
“We have now set ourselves the aim of constantly decreasing CO2 emissions within the metal provide chain,” the corporate has said in a press launch, noting it’s “already working with suppliers who use solely inexperienced energy for the metal they produce for us.”
That might imply elevated demand for metal from corporations like SSAB, which just lately announced plans to associate with Volvo on fossil-free vans. “We are able to see that the automotive trade on the whole is de facto on this for the easy purpose that we’re on the pathway of eliminating tailpipe emissions from passenger vehicles,” Hörnfeldt stated.
“And while you eliminate the tailpipe emissions, then the main environmental influence on the automobile comes from supplies which are utilized in that automobile.”
In different phrases: metal.
Questions on value competitiveness
There stays a lingering query surrounding the push to fabricate metal utilizing hydrogen. How a lot will it value?
Utilizing clear hydrogen is “going to be someplace between 20 and 40 per cent dearer than utilizing coal,” Bataille stated.
“We firmly imagine that that is going to be a aggressive know-how over time,” Hörnfeldt stated, noting a 2018 SSAB analysis estimated fossil-fuel-free metal could be 20 to 30 per cent dearer than typical metal.
“However that hole will shut,” he stated, explaining the worth of fossil-fuel-free metal will go down as the price of emissions will increase. “Coking coal will turn into dearer and inexperienced vitality will turn into cheaper.”
“All of this stuff have already occurred,” he stated.
“The upper the price of carbon, or carbon value, the extra economical these applied sciences turn into.”
In response to a 2020 report from McKinsey, typical steel-making corporations face economic risks within the close to future. The institute cites findings that corporations might lose worth if carbon pricing outpaces their skill to decarbonize.
Governments, after all, have enormous impacts on the feasibility of any type of clear applied sciences, within the type of carbon pricing.
“What’s economical is dependent upon what sort of incentives can be found,” Amit Kumar, professor of mechanical engineering and Pure Sciences and Engineering Analysis Council of Canada industrial chair on the College of Alberta, beforehand informed The Narwhal. “The upper the price of carbon, or carbon value, the extra economical these applied sciences turn into.”
Alberta nonetheless eyeing new coal developments as session begins
Following months of backlash to the federal government’s plans to rescind the 1976 coal coverage, Vitality Minister Sonya Savage announced in March that the province will start session on a brand new coal coverage.
That hasn’t stopped the pushback, nor has it paused progress on some metallurgical coal mines proposed within the province, such because the Grassy Mountain and Tent Mountain initiatives. In neighbouring B.C., new metallurgical coal mines are additionally transferring their approach by way of approval processes.
As trade and advocates alike name for the decarbonization of metal, one of many world’s most emission-intensive industries, there are rising issues that governments are placing their eggs within the mistaken basket.
For Bataille, the vitality economics professor, the writing is on the wall. Coal, he stated, is a “useful resource that’s going to be in all probability going out of enterprise inside a technology.”
As backlash erupted final 12 months in response to the Alberta authorities’s plans to open up giant swaths of the Rocky Mountain area to metallurgical coal mines, various plans have been already afoot within the world steel-making trade. Corporations have launched applied sciences that might remove their centuries-old reliance on metallurgical coal, together with plans to be fully freed from fossil fuels in simply over 20 years. Picture: Shutterstock
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