Advancing Sustainable Steel Production, with Adam Rauwerdink

A traditional steel factory with raw materials being transported across different stages of production

Image: The latest innovation in green steel production signals profound progression from the traditional method of burning coal and heating iron ores. It will bring along countless benefits in energy conservation and health conditions. Image credit: Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

Script & Audio by: Hannah Kaminker  |  Blurb by: Ashley Carter

Steel Production

Globally, 1.9 billion metric tons of crude steel were produced in 2022. Over the past 15 years, the global demand for steel production has nearly doubled, as this versatile product can be found in nearly all modern infrastructure such as buildings, ships, vehicles, machines, and appliances. Conventionally, steel is made from iron ore (the world’s third most produced commodity by volume), which is a compound derived from iron, oxygen, and other minerals. Through a blast or electric furnace, in which electricity is used to create high-temperature environments to melt the reactants, the final product of steel is generated following a molting refining process. Unfortunately, steel production is extremely energy-intensive and accelerates air pollution through the release of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. On average, 1.83 tons of CO2 is emitted for every ton of steel that is produced. Steel production accounts for nearly 7-11% of total global greenhouse gas emissions emitted annually. Steel production not only has harmful environmental impacts, but can negatively impact human health leading to respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD, and cancer. 

What is Green Steel?

To mitigate the harmful environmental and health effects of conventional steel production, many researchers  are working on green steel as an alternative. Green steel is a form of steel production that is powered by hydrogen or renewable energy, which can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and minimize waste. Green steel can be accomplished through various methods, whether by reducing carbon-based agents, moving from blast to electric furnaces, or decreasing reliance on fossil-fuel based inputs. 

In traditional steel production, CO2 emissions generally arise from the use of coal and coke to remove oxygen from iron ore. Green steel utilizes hydrogen rather than coal or coke. When burned, hydrogen emits only water, so this phase of manufacturing is free of carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, water is the only byproduct which can then be used to produce more hydrogen, forming a closed loop system. Throughout production, green steel utilizes either wind, solar or hydro to power the furnaces instead of fossil power. Scrap materials of used steel can also be utilized, reducing the need for extracting additional primary materials. 

The Future of Green Steel

Green steel production is on the forefront of innovative design in equipping regions like the Rust Belt with strategies to significantly revitalize their current operations. Last March the Biden-Harris Administration announced a $6 billion funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to accelerate decarbonization projects in energy-intensive industries like steel production. Such  investments aim to spearhead the transition to renewable energy sources, focus on investment in new carbon technologies, enable markets to build cleaner products, and benefit local communities. Additionally, a transition to hydrogen-based electric manufacturing could increase jobs in the steel and energy industries by 43 percent. Overall, green steel can conserve resources, promote economic growth, and assist in decarbonization. 

Scaling Up the Technology is Proving Troublesome

Steel has posed to be one of the most challenging industries to decarbonize. On a large scale, clean hydrogen production will require billions of dollars in investment to achieve a full transition. Currently, the cost of production of green steel is higher than conventional steel due to the high investment and electricity costs required. Labor, finance, and advanced technology will be essential in scaling up green steel production.

About the Guest

Adam Rauwerdink is the Senior Vice President of Business Development for Boston Metal, a Massachusetts based start-up working towards decarbonizing steelmaking and advancing efficient, sustainable metal production. Boston Metal utilizes Molten Oxide Electrolysis, a technology platform powered by electricity. In order to effectively scale up green steel production. 

Resources


Transcript

Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break. Climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal: producing steel from renewable energy, instead of fossil fuels. Adam Rauwerdink is senior Vice President of Business Development for Boston Metal, a company making steel with electricity.

Dr. Rauwerdink: So the basic process for making steel’s really been in place since the Iron Age. How that works is you find iron in nature in iron ore, which is iron oxide, iron and oxygen bound together to separate them. Carbon has done a great job of doing that for, for a few thousand years now. One of the side effects of that is that for every ton of steel you make, you get about two tons of CO2. And in the last few years, there’s been about 2 billion tons of steel made and that gets you to 8 to 10% of global emissions.

Ethan: Rauwerdink’s company has instead developed a process to split the oxygen from iron using electrons from clean energy.

Dr. Rauwerdink: Our core process has no, no water emissions or no water consumption associated with it. If you fly over one of our plants, it’s an oxygen facility.

Ethan: Rauwerdink says the market for “green steel” is expanding, in part due to corporate efforts to achieve net zero emission supply chains. But government policy could help by increasing the amount of renewable energy available to make the product and by requiring green steel in public projects and building codes.

Dr. Rauwerdink: When I joined the company six years ago, there were almost no policy drivers in place for low emissions or green steel. By 2020, 2021, almost all the steel makers had made 2050 net zero pledges, so it happened very, very quick.

Ethan: To learn more about green steel, visit climatebreak.org

Advancing Sustainable Steel Production, with Adam Rauwerdink