Clean Tech

From grey to green: In search of a resolve of steel

Preeti Mehra | Updated on February 12, 2020

How India can move towards a low-carbon steel sector

India’s steel demand is roughly projected to growfrom around 94 million tonnes (Mt) to 489 Mt, between now and 2050, in the latest research released on the sector.

The report, “Towards a Low Carbon Steel Sector: Overview of the Changing Market, Technology, and Policy Context for Indian Steel” on how we can achieve a zero-carbon steel scenario says that unlike many developed countries, even in 2050, India will not attain saturation point and will continue to feed on the commodity.

This clearly means that for the country to grow the economy and per capita GDP, where iron and steel play an important role, and at the same time keep its international commitment to help limit global warming to 2 degrees C, it needs to keep a keen focus on reducing the impact of this energy and resource-intensive industry on the environment.

Besides, if the country embraces technologies and methods to produce low-carbon steel in a significant way, it could also ensure a more robust export scenario in the future, especially to the European Union where a lot of Indian steel exports are headed. Currently, the European Union is actively considering the policy of carbon border adjustments, where it will assess the amount of carbon in a product and impose a carbon tax to ensure a level playing field for its domestic producers.

Three pillars

The report, brought out by Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation (SSEF), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the Energy Transitions Commissions (ETC), and one of the first of its kind, outlines the three key pillars of the pathway towards zero-carbon steel. These, if acted upon, would be beneficial for India to both grow the economy and participate in the global effort towards climate mitigation.

The first pillar recommends improving energy efficiency, resource efficiency and material circularity, all doable in the near term. Reviewing possible energy efficiency measures, the report comes to the conclusion that, “the average plant could lower energy consumption per unit output by between 24-38 per cent, depending on the production route. This would have important benefits in lowering aggregate energy consumption and CO2 emissions, where adoption of best available energy efficiency technologies could reduce overall emissions by up to 15 per cent by 2050.”

To promote resource efficiency, it recommends more efficient aggregate resource use across the economy. One of the authors of the report and TERI fellow, Thomas Spencer, explains that among others this can be obtained by certain structural trends like the emergence of ridesharing (Uber/Ola), the emergence of the gig economy, teleworking and co-working spaces. With these trends, along with policies to promote resource efficiency, steel demand could come down by 25 per cent by 2050.

Material circularity could be achieved if “the production of energy intensive primary steel can be avoided by increasing the collection and use of domestic scrap steel, which is 85 per cent less emissions intensive than primary steel,” Spencer argues.

As the second pillar, the report recommends a transition option in the HIsarna process (a smelting reduction process for producing liquid iron directly from iron ore fines and coal), which can reduce emissions by 20 per cent compared to the traditional Blast-Furnace Basic Oxygen Furnace route. “If the resulting pure stream of CO2 from the blast furnace route is captured using the Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS) route, then emissions could be reduced by up to 80 per cent,” says the report, pointing out that the technology is already being trialled in Europe by domestic player Tata Steel.

The report also outlines the possibility of other radical decarbonisation technologies by 2040, but feels that the hydrogen route is of particular interest. This involves the substitution of coal or natural gas as a reducing agent with hydrogen. “If hydrogen is produced from emissions-free electricity, total iron and steel emissions can be reduced by 94 per cent,” it says.

The third pillar towards achieving a zero-carbon steel future is for the country to pro-actively promote innovation, push global research and help domestic companies to achieve technological breakthroughs.

On the global front, the iron and steel sector accounted for about 6.2 per cent of the emissions footprint in 2015, and if the sector happened to be a country it would be the fifth largest emitter after China, the US, Europe and India. This is why reining in carbon emission in this sector can have global impact. In India “the report is the first step in a longer process of developing something more robust in agreement with the ministry, with industry which can really help move that part of the Indian economy in line with achieving national and international targets,” says Spencer.

Published on February 12, 2020

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