Steel is a worldwide staple. In fact, we use more than 1,600 million tons of steel per year. As you can imagine, producing that much steel eats up a lot of resources.
Carbon happens to be one of the most important and cost-effective resources used in the production of steel currently. Unfortunately, that carbon gives off CO2 in the process. The CO2 then releases into the atmosphere, where it contributes to a whole host of environmental problems, including climate change.
However, carbon is not the only resource we could be using to process steel. There is actually a pretty well-known alternative that would make for “greener” steel in the long run.
The primary purpose of carbon in the steel production process is to draw oxygen out of the alloy. It also improves the strength and resilience of the finished material.
This is done by adding a certain amount of carbon in the form of coke to the iron ore and then blasting it with heat and pure oxygen to create just the right mix of elements for the desired steel alloy.
Although carbon is the most widely used mineral for this process, there are other alternatives. For instance, both natural gas and hydrogen can accomplish the same task without producing nearly as much CO2.
Unfortunately, carbon remains the easiest material to get a hold of due to cost and availability. There is also the problem of asking steel manufacturers to spend millions of dollars to make their production plants compatible with natural gas and hydrogen. The good news is that some companies have already begun making the switch.
Throughout Europe and the U.S., investment in new technologies has led to steel manufacturers switching to natural gas equipment. This equipment is also compatible with hydrogen. In this case, natural gas is serving as an important milestone that is less costly than switching to hydrogen right away. However, it also pays off with huge cuts to CO2 emissions.
This change also opens up the possibility of mixing natural gas and hydrogen to mitigate costs while maximizing the benefits of both.
By the numbers, it is estimated that switching to natural gas only could cut steel production CO2 emissions by up to 60 percent. That is huge in its own right. But, by creating a 50/50 hydrogen and natural gas mix, it is possible to push that number toward 85% reduction.
And when it’s time to go to hydrogen only, we could see the steel industry reach 95% carbon emissions-free!
The best part is that the only byproduct of using hydrogen is water, which could then be recycled, filtered, and used for a number of other purposes in a steel production facility, including heating and cooling.
For now, the idea of green steel still seems a long way off, but in reality, the technology is already widely available and has proven its efficacy. Now it is up to steel manufacturers to invest in their own future by making the right decision.