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Green Steel – A new way for an improved environment and economy.

green steel
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Green Steel – A new way for an improved environment and economy.

Steel. We use it to make everything from cutlery to wind turbines, bridges to buildings, and everything in between. As valuable as steel is to our lives, the way it is made (using coal) is having a devastating effect on our climate. 

According to the stats – it takes almost two tonnes of carbon dioxide to create one ton of steel. Steel production, at this rate, accounts for about 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These staggering numbers show just how important it is to clean up this industry and turn it into a low carbon alternative – hence Green Steel.

Green Steel is the new way that is slowly emerging and will change the face of steel production and the negative environmental factors. ‘Green Steel’ is made using hydrogen rather than coal. The green steel revolution presents a massive opportunity for Australia.  

In Australia, we have an abundance of cheap wind and solar resources at our disposal; this means we are in a great position to produce the hydrogen needed for a strong green steel industry.  

A new green steel industry would increase our exports, offset fossil-fuel job losses and help us tackle climate change positively.

So, how is green steel made? Let’s discuss.

The current practice

I will try not to get too bogged down in the details, but it is essential to understand the process to understand the differences.

To make steel, you currently strip the oxygen from iron ore, producing pure iron metal. At present, this is done using coal or gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide. In green steel production, hydrogen is created from renewable energy sources and will replace fossil fuels. 

Australia at present produces around 900 million tonnes of iron ore a year; however, we are only producing 5.5 million tonnes of steel. This variance shows that Australia has a great capacity to increase its steel manufacturing. 

A report last year by the Grattan Institute found Australia could generate about $65 billion annually in exports by capturing just 6.5% more of the steel production market. This increase in market share would equate to around 25,000 new jobs in QLD and NSW.

Steelmaking is a complex process, and there are three main methods used. Below we discuss each of the three options and how they could be modified to create green steel.

1. Blast furnace

This is the biggie. About 70% of all steel made is done using this method. A large amount of coke (processed coal) is placed in the furnace to support the materials entering and leaving the furnace. The coke is also used to create the heat and carbon monoxide needed to strip the oxygen from the iron ore. 

In this process – hydrogen can be used to strip the oxygen away. In turn, this would result in the creation of water, not carbon dioxide. T

To make this process green, it could be completed using renewable energy.

2. Recycled steel

About 30% of all steel production is done by recycling steel. Steel has one of the highest recycling rates in the world compared to other materials.

Recycled steel is melted down in arc furnaces – these are driven by electricity. The carbon dioxide emissions are around 0.4 tonnes per tonne of steel; most of this is due to the fossil fuels being used to create electricity. If we were producing the electricity through wind or solar, the output of carbon dioxide would be significantly decreased. 

3. Direct reduced iron

“Direct reduced iron” (DRI) technology uses methane gas to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide. These are then used to turn iron ore into iron. This process still creates Carbon dioxide emissions as it requires more electricity than the blast furnace method. 

Despite this fact, the overall emission levels created are substantially lower. Even with this greenhouse gas saving, the DRI method currently only accounts for around 5% of all steel production.  

Australia: the Green Steel superpower?

Green steel is not going to happen quickly. There are still many challenges to figure out and opportunities to embrace.  

Firstly large scale, low-cost hydrogen needs to be readily available as well as access to renewable energy.

Despite these hurdles, Australia is positioned to be at the forefront of this industry and create a strong export economy whilst doing a small bit towards reducing the effects of global greenhouse emissions. 

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