Image courtesy of Nucor

Green Steel in the News Again

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After a lull in green steel announcements, it seems like the quiet is being disturbed on many fronts.

Tesla & Rethink Energy Green Steel Research

Tesla has released its long-awaited Master Plan Part 3, which includes the statement: “Today hydrogen is produced from coal, oil and natural gas, and is used in the refining of fossil fuels (notably diesel) and in various industrial applications (including steel and fertilizer production).

“Green hydrogen can be produced via the electrolysis of water (high energy intensity, no carbon containing products consumed/ produced)….” The plan encourages the production of green steel.

The UK-based think tank Rethink Energy has produced its Green Steel Revisit: Myth or Reality report declaring that a time will come when the steel sector will be able to produce sustainable green steel at a cheaper price than by using traditional coal-based methods.

This will allow the industry to safely and economically decarbonize. It will no longer be seen as a hard-to-abate sector, just an inconvenient sector to decarbonize.

There appear to be at least three green technologies under development by companies such as Fortescue Future Industries, Sparc Technologies, and GFG Alliance to decarbonise the steel production process. There is also no shortage of backers prepared to finance the development of ambitious global plans.

Green steel
Image courtesy of Nucor

Fortescue Future Industries Progress

Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries has claimed a major breakthrough in the production of green iron — a first but major step towards manufacturing green steel.

“FFI achieved a significant breakthrough in the pursuit of green iron by successfully processing 150kg of iron ore to make metallic iron that could pave the way for the production of green iron at scale.” —Fortescue Metals Group’s FY23 half year results.

Forrest is putting his money where his mouth is, with FFI increasing its R&D budget 75% to $160 million.

On social media, FFI made the following statement: “Our scientists used electrolysis (a fancy way of saying ‘zapping things with electricity’) to remove the oxygen from our iron ore, creating ‘metallic iron’ which can be used in the steelmaking process.

“Currently, that steelmaking process makes up about nine percent of our total global emissions, because it relies on coal.

“As long as the electricity for this process comes from renewable sources, the iron produced is fully green.”

Green hydrogen can replace coking coal (or metallurgic coal) in steel making. Metallurgic coal burns at a higher temperature than thermal coal (used primarily for power generation) and sells at a much higher price.

Fortescue’s Gladstone electrolyser factory is due to begin production imminently and is expected to produce its first electrolysers this year.

Director of Decarbonisation at Fortescue, Christiaan Heyning, said: “Fortescue has already started a few years ago a technological development to come up with a reduction process that allows us to make steel without producing any CO2.

“That has been started from the ground up with fundamental research and the breakthrough that we’ve achieved this month is that we’ve now produced sizeable volumes of green metallics out of our own iron ore without producing any CO2 in our production facility in Western Australia.

“(This is) extremely encouraging to go from a few grammes to the scale significantly larger than that.”

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He told analysts that “most of the company’s emissions were in downstream Scope 3 when its iron ore is used to make steel — usually using coal in a process that is highly CO2 intensive.”

Asked for more details on the process used, Executive Chairman Andrew Forrest said: “Look, that I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

“Let me just say, to give a clue to all our competitors out there, it uses a membrane and they’re going to have to come and talk to us if they want to borrow the membrane.”

More Green Hydrogen Funding

Sparc Technologies in South Australia is allocating an additional $1.1 million to its green hydrogen development joint venture with the University of Adelaide and Fortescue Future Industries. The extra funding is seen as a strong endorsement of Sparc Hydrogen’s green production process and demonstrates the increasing maturity of the technology.

“Sparc Hydrogen is commercialising its patent-pending photocatalytic water splitting technology developed by the Flinders and Adelaide universities.

“The technology has the potential to create significant energy efficiencies and a cost advantage with low capital and operating expenditure required compared to renewable energy powered electrolysis.”

Photocatalytic water splitting “produces green hydrogen through the use of a thermo-photocatalyst and solar radiation, avoiding more traditional and costly electrolysis.”

Green hydrogen is essential if we wish to decarbonise the steel industry.

Low-Carbon-Emissions Electric Arc Furnace

The GFG Alliance in Whyalla South Australia has announced the purchase of a low-carbon-emissions electric arc furnace which will allow the phaseout of coal-based steelmaking. The GFG Alliance is a collection of global businesses and investments, owned by Sanjeev Gupta and his family.

You can watch the video about this news here. The GFG Alliance is slowly achieving its aim of bringing the historic steelmaking town of Whyalla back to life.

Leading equipment manufacturer Danieli will supply the new 160-tonne low-carbon-emissions (low-carbonelectric arc furnace.

“The furnace will initially be fed by domestic steel scrap and other Fe-bearing materials to deliver an expected 90% reduction in direct CO2 emissions compared with traditional blast furnace production. Danieli’s patented Q-One technology, the first of its kind, provides capability for a direct feed from renewable power sources which could help to eliminate indirect emissions from Whyalla’s new steelmaking facility.”

Fifty million Australian dollars in funding will be sought from the South Australian government through the Whyalla Steel Taskforce. The furnace is expected to be operational in 2025, replacing the existing coke ovens and blast furnace.

GPA will also install a 1.8mtpa direct reduction plant (DRP). “The DRP will initially use a mix of natural gas and green hydrogen as the reducing agent, before fully transitioning to green hydrogen as it becomes available at scale. The low carbon DRI can then be fed into the electric arc furnace in combination with scrap to produce high quality steel grades for Australian infrastructure projects, and to serve the growing global demand for low carbon DRI.”

GPA’s Liberty plant aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. Plans are in place for “state-of-the-art iron and steel making facilities, large scale hydrogen production and storage facilities all connected to renewable electricity generation.” Training opportunities are available through Liberty’s Greensteel Academy.

Executive Chairman Sanjeev Gupta said: “Today marks the beginning of a new era placing Whyalla at the heart of a global revolution in the steel industry, moving it from being the most polluting of all industries to among the cleanest and greenest … we will help to decarbonise steel supply chains globally.

“Whyalla has some of the best conditions to make low carbon iron and steel anywhere in the world and with our magnetite expansion plans, coupled with South Australia’s endless resource for renewable energy and green hydrogen, the potential for Whyalla has no bounds.”

The Premier of South Australia, Peter Malinauskas, said: “My government has selected Whyalla to be the home of our Hydrogen Jobs Plan, which will see the world’s biggest electrolyser and hydrogen power station.”

Green Steel — Critical for Our Future

Steel forms the bones of our civilisation. It is wonderful to see the progress in moving this industry away from being a major polluter. We cannot build without steel, but we cannot live with the levels of CO2 being produced. Many solutions appear to be at hand.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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