The most important stop on our journey to a CO2-free future
thyssenkrupp Steel is launching its climate initiative with initial practical research steps, setting us on a revolutionary path to a future in which steel production is CO2-neutral and no longer has any impact on the climate. The project is being funded under the IN4climate. NRW initiative recently launched by the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia. By the year 2050 – following the “reinvention” of steel production – thyssenkrupp Steel will only supply CO2-neutral steel.
If we are to meet the ambitious goal of producing steel with zero CO2 emissions in the next three decades, we are going to need some fundamental technological changes. At present there are three possible routes: carbon capture and storage (CCS), carbon capture and utilization (CCU), e.g. utilization of CO2 in the form of methanol for the chemical industry, and carbon direct avoidance (CDA). thyssenkrupp is so far the only company in the world using two of these routes at a single site: CCU in connection with the “Carbon2Chem” project, and more recently CDA through the use of hydrogen in the blast furnace.
Dr. Arnd Köfler, CTO of thyssenkrupp Steel Europe, explains the company’s CDA approach: “In the future we will use hydrogen instead of carbon as the reducing agent in the existing blast furnace process.” Emissions will then take the form of steam rather than CO2. In a world first, thyssenkrupp Steel is partnering with Air Liquide and the non-profit research institute BFI to convert a blast furnace to hydrogen operation. In an initial test phase, hydrogen will be blown into one of the 28 tuyeres on blast furnace 9 in Duisburg. The NRW state government is funding this initial project phase under its IN4climate initiative. Following analysis of the test phase, hydrogen is then to be used at all 28 tuyeres of the blast furnace in 2020. “In this way we plan to reduce CO2 emissions by around 20 percent and significantly modify the blast furnace process,” says Dr. Arnd Köfler.
This is an important start, but it will only reduce CO2 emissions by a maximum of 20 percent, which is nothing like enough. So at the same time thyssenkrupp Steel is also planning to gradually convert its blast furnace ironmaking to the direct reduction (DR) route. Rather than molten pig iron, DR plants produce sponge iron (direct reduced iron, DRI) which is then processed into crude steel in electric arc furnaces. This steel production method, using e.g. natural gas, can already today reduce CO2 emissions by some 20-35 percent compared with the conventional blast furnace route. So far, however, production capacities via direct reduction are limited compared with the blast furnace route, which is why this technology is not very widespread.
thyssenkrupp Steel has set itself the target of switching its steel production to direct reduction plants and electric arc furnaces by 2050. This production method will be implemented with a gradual increase in the amount of hydrogen used. In this way the company aims to significantly lower its emissions without reducing production capacities.
Four years ago, 195 countries agreed to work together to slow global warming. The binding global agreement reached at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015 was celebrated internationally as a historic milestone for mankind. Since then, one thing has been required above all others: action. Because the long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is a task for society as a whole. And it can only be achieved through concrete, holistic measures. The European steel industry is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as its contribution to meeting the goals of the Paris agreement.
“Our job in the next few years is to create the basis for the transformation of the steel industry, press ahead with research, and develop and implement large-scale industrial solutions as quickly as possible. Investments in our sector in central production units such as blast furnaces and melt shops are spread over decades. That’s why we need to start with the transformation now. The important thing is to have achieved CO2 neutrality by 2050. That’s the benchmark we must be measured against,” says Andreas J. Goss, CEO of thyssenkrupp Steel Europe. That’s why he is appealing to policy makers to provide consistent long-term support for this socially important task: “Such a radical transformation of the steel industry is unprecedented. It requires political and regulatory conditions that will allow us to remain competitive in the future. That’s the only way we can shoulder the required investments, which in our case alone will amount to some 10 billion euros by 2050. At the same time our capital-intensive plants and the highly competitive cost situation in the steel industry must be taken into account.”
Many products and industries rely on steel to achieve technical progress and reduce their carbon footprint. thyssenkrupp Steel makes an important contribution to many key transformation processes. Steel is vital to the transition to renewable energies: For example wind turbines are 80 percent steel, and the material is also an essential component of their generators.
“Numerous steel-based applications and products save more energy and CO2 emissions over their lifetime than are required for their manufacture,” says Dr. Arnd Köfler, CTO of thyssenkrupp Steel Europe. “Steel production still remains an energy-intensive process. But trying to do without steel altogether is like trying to stop the clock to save time.”
Under its comprehensive sustainability strategy, thyssenkrupp Steel is focusing systematically on reducing its own CO2 emissions step-by-step to virtually zero by 2050.
Beyond our climate initiative, we have also launched an array of initiatives aimed at developing the innovations needed for both the low carbon economy and the circular economy. Like climate protection in general, both can only be achieved through concerted large-scale efforts. So the European steel sector and other branches of industry need to work together simultaneously on various approaches to creating the smart, low-carbon industry of the future. The aim of the circular economy is to further optimize carbon-based steelmaking and recycle carbon for use in other areas. Storage methods – carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilization (CCU) – are also available to prevent carbon from being released into the atmosphere.
thyssenkrupp Steel’s sustainability strategy is currently pursuing two routes: Carbon2Chem and the use of hydrogen as a reducing agent. But the company remains open to other technologies that could help achieve CO2-neutral steel production by 2050. Carbon2Chem® is a pioneering project in terms of the circular economy and the utilization of carbon from steel mill gases (CCU). thyssenkrupp’s aim is to make the waste gases arising during steel production available as raw materials for the production of basic chemicals. “With the carbon-containing components in these gases, the chemical industry will no longer need to produce synthesis gas from imported fossil resources such as oil and gas,” says Dr. Arnd Köfler.
On the road to carbon-neutral steel production thyssenkrupp Steel is utilizing both methods –Carbon2Chem® and hydrogen as a reducing agent – in parallel to significantly reduce emissions from the existing blast furnace route. “In our continuing transformation process, which will ultimately lead to carbon avoidance through the use of hydrogen, we will still need the CO2 savings potential of C2C as we cannot convert directly to direct reduced iron (DRI),” says Dr. Arnd Köfler.
In this connection, Dr. Köfler continues, it is down to governments at national or European level to provide a coordinated hydrogen strategy. To ensure the sustained success of its new steel production route thyssenkrupp Steel Europe needs a large and dependable supply of “green” hydrogen produced using renewable energies, which must be available at competitive prices and with corresponding transportation capacities.
Over the past few decades thyssenkrupp Steel Europe has made constant strides in improving the energy efficiency of the established blast furnace process, which is still the predominant method of producing steel. It works on the principle that carbon from coke is combusted to produce heat and carbon monoxide, triggering a reaction that reduces iron ore to pig iron – the starting material for steel – and slag. This route accounts for two thirds of global production of metallic charge materials for the production of steel.
Substantial progress has been made in the blast furnace process since the 1950s. In Germany, for example, the amount of carbon-based reducing agents required per ton of pig iron – originally also one ton – was more than halved by the end of the 1990s. But for the past two decades it has been virtually impossible to reduce this level any further. This is typical for technical processes that are operating at their limits, and that is exactly the case with blast furnace technology. “In Germany we have reached maximum metallurgical efficiency and are now at the thermodynamic limits,” says Andreas J. Goss, CEO of thyssenkrupp Steel Europe. The successful period of evolution has come to an end. What we now need is a true revolution like the climate initiative to achieve the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
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