Potential Pathways for Net-Zero Steel Industry

The steel sector’s decarbonization efforts depend highly on coordination among the private sector, government, university experts and community groups. Mission Possible Partnership (MPP) – an alliance built to guide emission-intensive industries in their decarbonization journey – aims to support these industries (including steel) through net-zero strategies and approaches. It emphasizes on sponsoring breakthrough technologies, enhancing manufacturing efficiency and developing transition-oriented legislation for the industries. MPP has conducted grassroots analysis on financial investments made for a specific steel mill to develop hypotheses for creating a decarbonization road map for the steel sector. The hypotheses were designed by using two principles: 

  • Impact of financial expenses and technological innovation on carbon-reduction initiatives
  • Local energy costs and carbon repository options to choose the most affordable technologies.

MPP has used the following two hypotheses to create strategic guidelines for the sector.

MPP highlights the following critical points in the steel industry’s journey towards its zero-carbon goal:

  • Diverse carbon-reduction pathways – The 2030 and 2050 hypotheses, while interpreting the future of the steel industry, suggest that the industry may mitigate Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 10-33% within 2030 (vs 2020) and 90% by mid-century. They assume different measures will converge to achieve net zero by 2050 and fuel the advancement of steel production technologies, as well as lower GHG emissions and power consumption, notwithstanding budgetary restrictions.

 

  • Technology investments – The early adoption of revolutionary technologies will likely increase investment and steel manufacturing expenses in the future, while the lack of action would expose the industry to considerable threats. The sector can possibly limit its emission expenses if it takes steps early to comply with the 1.5°C global temperature reduction target. 

 

  • Transition to innovative steel-manufacturing methods – As the sector heads towards zero carbon, the number of steel manufacturing methods will likely increase from 3 to 12, with each scenario marked by a different pace of technological advancement. According to baseline projections (2020) made by MPP, blast furnace – basic oxygen technology will be replaced temporarily but will continue to dominate the market. After 2030, the demand for emission storage facilities will likely rise significantly, necessitating the rapid expansion of carbon capture plants. However, by 2050, crude steel production will likely reduce to 1 million t/year, leaving carbon capture and storage inconsequential. 

 

  • Growth in low-emission facilities – To fulfil the expected raw steel demand by 2030, primary manufacturing facilities with nearly no emissions will likely need to be constructed with a capacity three times that of existing low-emission facilities. The design for these primary facilities needs to start immediately. However, less aggressive targets for the 2020s could lead to the failure of its 1.5°C emission-reduction goal.

 

  • Need for energy and appropriate conditions – A major shift in energy use is anticipated during the sector’s decarbonization. Growing waste use has led to an initial drop in power consumption, but this trend will reverse when alternative primary steel manufacturing technologies become more prevalent. The speedy implementation of the direct-reduced-iron technique in the cost of carbon emission scenario will likely result in a significant rise in natural gas consumption by 2035. On the other hand, higher dependence on low-CO2 steel technologies will likely result in 2,300–2,700 TWh/y growth in the overall power consumption in the industry.

 

  • Financial cost of transitioning to carbon-free technologies – The median cost of steel production will go up to $320/ton in 2050 (compared to $280/ton in 2020), as the steel industry moves towards carbon neutrality. Certain regions may charge extra for producing low-CO2 steel even in mid-century. Low-carbon technologies will likely have to contend with established techniques, demanding strategies to eliminate the price difference between high- and low-CO2 steel through the evolution.

 

  • Investments – The steel sector needs to spend, on average, $47 billion/year (base year: 2020) to keep up with the growing demand for steel and another $9 billion/year, or $290 billion by 2050, to integrate net-zero-compliant technologies into global steel infrastructure. Inactions would result in limited innovation towards transition and elevated asset maintenance costs. Investments are projected to be dominated by zero-emission-supportive infrastructure such as CO2 storage space, hydrogen facilities and carbon-free energy generation resources, which will likely require around $3.4 trillion in the next 30 years. 

 

  • Different geographies, and diverse methods – The MPP strategy enables local-steel-sector forecasts and enhances the understanding of various channels to achieve net zero. Both the above-mentioned hypotheses show that globally recognized patterns are emerging in every region. Nonetheless, global technological solutions cannot be viewed as universally applicable thanks to divergent possibilities and challenges posed by local factors.

 

  • Additional considerations – Other factors, such as the necessity to improve the iron ore supply chain, impact on livelihood and additional ecological variables (airborne emissions, wastewater pollutants, and toxic and solid material waste), overlooked by the MPP strategies, must be considered in a zero-emission approach.

 

The current approach to net-zero achievement in the steel industry is basic. It entails evaluating a steelmaker’s rationale for technological advances and does not factor in other considerations, such as the transfer of steel mills to the latest greenfield areas. However, MPP continually improves its strategies and approaches. Thus, the current limitations can be addressed in the future.

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