Monday, 14 March 2011

Clean steel a blast from the future

Sydney Morning Herald
Tuesday 8/3/2011, Page: 5

PAUL O'MALLEY'S claim that a significant breakthrough in cutting steel making emissions is 20 to 40 years away appears to put little faith in imminent technologies. Climate Action Network Europe, the well regarded non government organisation, reports some technologies for cutting emissions, while costly, may not be that far away.

Last week Blue-Scope Steel's chief who is fast becoming the industry's figurehead against the federal government's carbon tax said 80% of Blue-Scope Steel's emissions come from steel making. "There is no technology available anywhere in the world that can see virgin iron produced from blast furnaces without CO₂ emissions. We are probably 20 to 40 years away from that kind of breakthrough", Mr O'Malley said.

According to the European report, however, there are four technologies that could reduce emissions significantly. The closest to being introduced is the Fastmelt process, using a redesigned blast furnace to reduce iron ore more efficiently. Adding carbon capture and storage (CCS) could reduce emissions in steel making by 55%, the report says. Top gas recycling, recently demonstrated in Sweden, is expected to be in use by 2020. It reuses the energy of blast furnaces, reduces coke consumption and separates CO₂, for sequestration.

The HIsarna steelmaking process, Climate Action Network says, is "the most promising route to low carbon steel making at the moment". It uses a cyclone converter furnace rather than a blast furnace, skipping the process of making pig iron pellets. It can provide an 80% reduction in emissions with CCS, or 20% without. Tata Power Steel in Europe, formerly Corus IJmuiden, has advanced in the pilot stage but deployment could still take until 2025.

The fourth technology is electrolysis, which would reduce iron ore by adding electrons to iron from electricity. "This theoretically allows for complete carbon neutral steel production if the applied electricity is produced without generating CO₂, emissions", the network said of the process, which is in only its pre pilot phase.

An Australian company, Wasabi Energy, is using Kalina cycle technology to capture waste heat from steel making and generate electricity, cutting emissions through energy efficiency measures. Dominique La Fontaine, the principal climate change consultant for Tasmanian group Pitt and Sherry, said the federal government needed to tailor compensation for steel makers to encourage the uptake of new technologies.

"It is a tough challenge from the point of view of the steel industry", he said. "But how much is this due to technological barriers and how much is it because of commercial issues such as asset renewal strategies?" Andrew Purvis, Blue-Scope Steel's vice president environment, said the company was working on finding a solution with rival OneSteel and the CSIRO as part of industry "CO₂, Breakthrough" programs.