1. Pilot new technologies
There are still other process improvements and alternative technologies that hold potential. Funding towards further research and demonstration is needed to determine the viability of these technologies.
Humans have been making steel for 4,000 years, however, the fundamental production process has stayed relatively the same. More recently, novel solutions have emerged that revolutionize the process. These include technologies like MIT spinoff Boston Metal, which rethinks steel manufacturing completely to only utilize electricity and iron ore.9 LanzaTech’s emission-consuming bacteria can be applied to the current steel manufacturing process to produce ethanol.10
When creating a new product, developers need to approach it with the lens of a complete life cycle assessment. If new technologies remove the need for blast furnaces, but the alternative ends up producing similar or more emissions somewhere else, we may as well stick to the status quo. Research should ensure that new processes do not make incremental improvements at the cost of significant mechanical or technical reconfigurations to the current processes, such as modifying gasses that are utilized during production that increase costs. Similarly, new energy intensive processes that depend on a power grid that has not yet fully decarbonized may be detrimental overall.
As many large corporations begin to ramp up their corporate decarbonization commitments, reconfiguring their supply chains to reduce their carbon footprint and greening their investment portfolios, they will seek out cleaner, low-emission steel options.
Historically steel demand has been on a consistent upward trend. The need for steel is only going to increase as populations continue to grow and nations continue to develop. Each new megawatt of solar requires approximately 35 to 45 tons of steel while each new megawatt of wind requires 120 to 180 tons of steel. Based on projected renewable energy growth, this conservatively translates to 74 million tons of new international steel demand and 163 million tons of carbon emissions if we stick to current, blast furnace-based production options. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in development delays, the World Steel Association estimates an increase. Considering the amount of clean power and clean technology we need to deploy by 2050 to meet private and public decarbonization goals, steel will be the backbone of the U.S., and global, clean technology transition.