Need for Decarbonisation Road Map to Curb Steel Industry’s Carbon Emissions


The steel industry is one of the largest emitters of carbon (7-8% of global emissions). As global steel demand is set to increase on rising income and spending power of populations in developing economies, particularly in Asia, the steel industry needs to prioritise decarbonisation initiatives to keep global temperature rise below 2ºC, as well as retain its licence to operate in a carbon-neutral world.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has prepared two distinct models, which highlight the current demand and emission intensity levels of the steel industry and the route it needs to take to reduce its overall carbon footprint in line with IPCC’s 2050 vision. Moreover:

  • The Sustainable Development Scenario assumes the world will be in full compliance with the Paris Agreement and meet the objective of curbing global average temperature increase to below 2°C.
  • The Stated Policies Scenario provides a sense of direction in which today’s policy ambitions would lead the steel industry. It considers specific policy initiatives that have already been announced and indicates real-world adoption of energy transition initiatives.
IEA graph

As is clear from the graphs above, a huge gap exists between the emission intensity the steel industry needs to reduce and its current levels. Several steel producers have already announced road maps to transition from carbon-heavy processes to greener manufacturing processes. However, a holistic decarbonisation road map, which embraces evolving techno-economic landscape, is the need of the hour for the steel industry as the world moves towards a carbon-neutral economy.

The World Steel Association has developed a four-stage steel-industry-specific efficiency review process, which focuses on achievable transformations steel producers could embrace to meet the industry’s carbon output ambitions. This holistic decarbonisation strategy covers raw material quality, energy efficiency, yield and process reliability to improve mill operations in order to achieve exceptional efficiency levels in line with the industry’s top quartile performers.

Graph Worls Steel
  • Optimal raw material selection: Iron ore and coking coal quality is directly correlated to the energy intensity of steel-making processes. Processes, such as beneficiation of coal, and increasing scrap use can significantly improve emission intensity
  • Energy efficiency: Energy efficiency is a crucial component for emission reduction since it focuses on improving the efficiency of existing equipment and requires relatively low investment compared to the installation of new, low-emission equipment. Examples of efficiency improvement measures include heat and energy recovery systems, dry-quenching of coke, co-generation units and heat insulation of equipment
  • Improving yield: Improving production yield, directly linked to reduced energy intensity and raw material use, decreases emissions from the steelmaking processes
  • Process reliability: Streamlined steel plant maintenance reduces downtime and increases reliability, which lowers energy use per ton of steel produced

These measures can be a guide for steel producers aiming to reduce their carbon emissions. In addition, steel producers need to be on the lookout for evolving technical landscape, such as electric-arc furnace, hydrogen-based fuels, and carbon capture and storage. Growing importance of carbon markets, and increasing carbon taxes and penalties, should also be taken into account while formulating a decarbonisation road map, as they can be important levers for adopting greener steel-making processes and reducing the overall carbon footprint.

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