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Ironing out the details - IEA releases steel technology roadmap

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

The International Energy Agency (IEA) published its Iron and Steel Technology Roadmap on 8 October, providing clarity and guidance for this energy-intensive industry.

Since 2009, the IEA has published more than 55 roadmaps and 'How2Guides', giving practical advice to various sectors including the cement and nuclear industry on how to reduce their carbon footprints with the overall goal of limiting global warming.

The Iron and Steel roadmap is one of the IEA's latest offerings; an industry that is estimated to account for 8% of global energy demand and 7% of energy sector CO2 emissions.

The IEA sees the steel industry as being critical in the energy transition, given the amount of infrastructure which relies on the ubiquitous building material, including renewable energy structures such as solar panels and wind turbines. Of immediate concern is the reliance of the industry on coal, which supplies 75% of the energy demand and is used chemically in the steel making process.

While Covid-19 is likely to result in a 5% decrease in steel output for 2020, the IEA projects demand to increase more than 33% to 2050. With this increased consumption comes increased carbon emissions. Compounding this issue is that two methods of reducing emissions, recycling and upgrading steelmaking infrastructure, have apparent limitations. Specifically, high recycling rates are unlikely to fulfill the increase in demand, and current steel-making infrastructure is relatively young and represents a significant cost to replace with lower-emitting infrastructure before end-of-life.

The various measures required to keep global temperatures to under 2ºC (Sustainably Development Scenario or SDS), particularly versus current scenarios (stated policies scenarios, or STEPS) are also discussed within the roadmap.

While improvements in efficiency (both steel usage, and steelmaking processes) are important, they are considered insufficient in themselves for lowering carbon emissions to SDS levels in 2050. Particularly with respect to process efficiencies, the IEA report points out to the limited gains that can be made with current blast furnace technologies, with the current state of the art already approaching practical minimum energy consumption.

The report emphasizes the need to adopt new technologies, with green hydrogen (as a coke replacement) and carbon capture, use, and storage technologies highlighted. Government intervention will also be required to affect a 'revolution', to both encourage the necessary changes and ensure that deployment occurs at a rapid pace.

The report is available for free from the IEA website (link).