07 July 2021
Corporate News

Let’s talk about the future event: Carbon neutral and responsible steelmaking

Tata Steel IJmuiden

“Carbon must have its price, because nature cannot pay the price anymore”

These were the stark words of Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission in March 2021, which were set out during our most recent online event in our Let's talk about the future series. In this webinar, we explored some of the critical sustainability challenges the steel industry is facing, particularly with regard to CO2 and the ways that Tata Steel in Europe are responding to these challenges. 
The webinar was well-attended with many steel users from around the world joining us for the one hour session. 
Tata Steel emphasised the importance of not only thinking about long-term actions to tackle greenhouse gas emissions but also of working in the short to medium term.

Anne-Claire Howard, CEO of ResponsibleSteelTM talked about some of the environmental, social and governance challenges that our industries face from mine to end product and how the ResponsibleSteel Standard will set definitions and norms not just for business but also for civil society.

The event also looked at efficiency and circularity: we can optimise material utilisation and design with less steel used which can increase right first time rates, conserve resources and lower embodied carbon.

We received excellent questions and we were not able to respond to all of them during the webinar so we've put together a list of the top questions which came up during the event along with our responses here:

Are Biomass reductants an option?

Biomass has been used as an alternative to fossil-fuels in steelmaking for many years. A range of types of biomass can be used, from charcoal produced from sustainably managed forest resources through to by-products of agriculture and food production (e.g. molasses). Wherever biomass can be produced in a responsible and sustainable manner, then it can play a part in the decarbonisation of the steel industry.  

One of the main drawbacks is the amount of land that would need to be given over to producing biomass from sustainable forestry and the competing uses for that biomass, such as timber and paper production. There have also been cases in the past where biomass production for certain sectors of the economy (for example, the production of 'bio-diesel' for use in transportation) has been done in a way that is not sustainable, with monocultures displacing biodiverse natural forests.  

Whilst biomass can be produced responsibly, it is nevertheless not being considered for use at a large scale in the European steel industry. 

Is there enough Hydrogen or enough electrical power available to produce the required amount of Hydrogen for the steel industry?  

Indeed, hydrogen represents an exciting means to decarbonise a variety of sectors of the economy. It has the innate attraction over carbon alternatives of producing water, rather than carbon dioxide when it is used to convert iron ore to iron or when it is used as a fuel to produce heat and power. Hydrogen-based steelmaking is an emerging ore-based production method, essentially a low-carbon modification of an established ironmaking technique known as direct reduced iron (DRI), in which ‘sponge iron’ or DRI is produced in a shaft furnace through the reaction of hydrogen and iron ore. DRI then needs to be melted, most likely in an electric arc furnace (EAF), which is the predominant existing technology used for DRI melting and scrap melting (either in isolation or in combination). 

Several steel companies worldwide have experimented with the injection of hydrogen into blast furnaces, but no company has a fully hydrogen-based steel production. A couple of fully hydrogen-based steel plants are under development, with the Swedish HYBRIT being amongst the most well-known. The HYBRIT project expects to have a demonstration plant ready in 2025, and a few other companies are hoping to have demonstrations plants ready in the late 2020s. However, a fully operational hydrogen-steel plant operating at a commercial scale is not expected until the mid-2030s. This is because of a range of technical challenges that remain to be resolved using pilot-scale and demonstration-scale technology.  

An equally sizeable barrier is the availability of ‘green’ hydrogen (that is, hydrogen produced from the hydrolysis of water using renewable electricity). For example, in the UK ore-based steel sector alone, a switch to hydrogen-based steel production would require up to 25TWh of hydrogen for the reduction process, plus an additional 3-4TWh for rolling and indirect heating for the entire sector. This is more than the UK’s current production of 27TWh of hydrogen (comprising green and ‘grey’ hydrogen).  

A range of policy instruments and public investments will be required in order to bring hydrogen-based steelmaking to large-scale realisation. 

How feasible is HIsarna? 

Tata Steel is hugely proud of HIsarna, a technology that it has been instrumental in developing and for which it holds the IP rights.  

The demonstration sized plant sites at Tata Steel’s IJmuiden steelworks is being used to hone the process, providing invaluable learnings for our technologists in relation to raw material blends, refractory design, charging practice, instrumentation and process control.  

HIsarna represents a paradigm shift when compared to existing blast furnace technology (that has been in existence for over 100 years) and which has benefited from incremental optimisation by steelmakers across the globe in that period. So scaling up of HIsarna cannot be achieved overnight.  

We remain confident that HIsarna will play an important role in our transition to carbon neutrality. Not only does direct smelting eliminate the coke-making, sintering and pelletising steps currently carried out at integrated steelworks across the world directly eliminating 20% to 30% of direct emissions, but it also produces an off-gas that is rich in CO2 which lends itself to carbon capture use and storage (CCUS). 

Is Tata Steel planning of offer CO2 Certificates to Customers? 

Tata Steel is investigating a range of ways that it can partner with its customers to achieve mutual decarbonisation aims in a coordinated and cost-efficient manner. It has not made any decision on the possible use of CO2 certificates and looks forward to engaging with its customers to understand what level of appetite exists in the market for such mechanisms.  

One thing that is certain is that the costs of decarbonising the economic system will have to be shared equitably by all beneficiaries of that system. It is expected that responsible companies will increasingly seek to pay a premium to be supplied with low-CO2 feedstock.

How is Tata Steel preparing itself for a post Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) world? 

Tata Steel, like all steelmakers in the EU and the UK, has voiced concerns to policy makers for many years about the need to ensure climate policies in the EU/UK do not lead to de-industrialisation and the relocation of foundation industries to jurisdictions that have less stringent climate policy (so-called carbon leakage).  

Tackling climate change is an effort that concerns the whole of society and accelerating the pace of decarbonisation of the steel sector will require a set of policy interventions that rapidly strengthen the business case for public and private investment in low-CO2 steel. 

It would be counter-productive if the cost of decarbonising Tata Steel’s steelmaking operations in the Netherlands and the UK were to give a competitive advantage to steelmakers in less carbon-constrained jurisdictions; policy measures are thus needed to enable the Tata Steel to remain competitive whilst pioneering the steel sector transition to net-zero. Tata Steel is thus supportive in principle of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism that will be proposed in the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ legislative package - and the expression of intent by the UK Government to investigate the feasibility of introducing a similar approach - but care will be needed in the design of such mechanisms if they are to have the intended effect of enabling rapid decarbonisation amongst EU and UK steelmakers whilst ensuring their adoption of a leadership position on climate action does not come at the expense of their competitiveness. 

For this reason, Tata Steel supports the call from the EU steel industry that free allocations, based on benchmark performance, should be retained in the EU Emissions Trading System in parallel with a CBAM during a transitional phase. 

In addition to CBAM, Tata Steel advocates a range of other policy instruments to incentivise the use by society of low-CO2 steel, such as green public procurement and product policies, measures that accelerate the deployment of clean energy infrastructure and interventions that ensure steelmakers can access low-cost finance to commercialise high-risk, innovative and first-of-a-kind technologies. 

Can Tata Steel give a guarantee on performance improvement in engineering design projects? 

Tata Steel cannot offer any guarantees on performance improvement as any improvement in an engineering design is dependent on a broad range of factors.  

These will include not just material properties but many aspects of design and analysis together with joining and production methodologies. We do have expertise in every area of the design / development / manufacturing cycle which can help our customers.  

Our Customer Technical Support (CTS) engineers are able to help customers specify the appropriate material grade and coatings and they will advise on production methods, such as forming and joining. For more in-depth studies we have support from a world class R&D team who can provide detailed knowledge on the behaviour of any type of steel in the relevant process and application. We have a team of engineers to assist and advise on specific design questions. They are able to provide Advanced Engineering Services using the latest in computer aided engineering tools and are able to work closely with your engineering team to provide innovative design solutions, for example, with the implementation of higher strength steels for light-weight structures.  

Given this, we do not provide guarantees but have a strong track record and will make sure all possible options are explored. Your account manager will help to guide you to the right contacts on the support available. 

For more information about Tata Steel's sustainability strategy you can view the Sustainability pages or to keep up to speed with future online events in the Engineering sector, follow us on social media.

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