Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

Australia’s largest steel producer BlueScope wants to start the transition to carbon-free green steel within the next decade, but the catch is that the technology has not yet been proven on a large scale.

Using current technology would make green steel prohibitively expensive.

So part of BlueScope’s plans include building a 10 megawatt electrolyzer to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, using hydrogen in the steelmaking process to reduce CO2 emissions.

Steel accounts for 8 percent of carbon emissions globally, so deep emission reductions from the steel industry will be crucial to achieving global emissions targets.

The Port Kembla integrated steel plant produces 800 tonnes of crude or sheet steel a day, which is converted into sheets, hot-rolled coils and sheets or coated products, where the demand for steel in the construction industry in particular is growing despite a global pandemic.

It is the largest production site in Australia, directly employing around 3,000 people, while indirectly supporting around 10,000 jobs in Illawarra.

But it costs something, as CO2 capture researchers CO2CRC estimates that BlueScope Steel alone generated almost 12 per cent of all emissions from production in Australia by 2020.

This year, the company outlined ambitions to reduce total emissions to zero by 2050.

It also aims in the medium term by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensity by 12 percent for steelmaking and 30 percent for non-steelmaking activities based on 2018 levels.

There is broad agreement, the only way this can be achieved is by adopting a hydrogen strategy.

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Is green hydrogen the fuel of the future?

How to make steel

At its most basic, steel is made by mixing coal and iron at very high temperatures, usually in a giant sealed cooking unit called a blast furnace.

The formed crude or pig steel is then refined by adding scrap metal in another furnace called the basic oxygen furnace, where many of the impurities are removed.

Fossil-free steel is produced without creating CO2 emissions by using fossil-free energy sources, namely green hydrogen, as a binder instead of coke made from coal.

The by-product of green steel production is water vapor rather than large amounts of CO2.

Bluescope's Port Kembla steelworks
BlueScope must find a way to reduce CO2 emissions, and hydrogen is highlighted as the answer.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

BlueScope’s hydrogen plans

BlueScope Stel’s chief technology officer Chris Page recently told a virtual town hall meeting that the production of green hydrogen from water using an electrolyzer is massively energy intensive.

In fact, he said it would require up to 15 times the amount of electricity used to produce steel in Port Kembla.

“In terms of hydrogen, we need a lot of it,” Page said.

Currently, the largest electrolyzer operating in Australia is only 1.25 MW.

“And on, if we want to go to [full hydrogen steel production] we will need something like 1400MW to do that, ”Page said.

“To give you an idea of ​​the scope of what we’re talking about, today Port Kembla uses just under 100 MW of power all the time.

Mr Page revealed that the company is looking at how to increase its engagement in hydrogen with public bodies wanting BlueScope to be more ambitious in this area.

The NSW government has indicated that hydrogen production will attract more than $ 80 billion in investment through agreements with major trading powers, with places like Illawarra, Parkes and Upper Hunter uniquely positioned to benefit.

This path to using hydrogen to create a turning point away from energy from fossil fuels and towards zero-carbon is strongly promoted by hydrogen influencers like Australia’s richest man Andrew Forrest and NSW Treasurer and Energy Minister Matt Kean.

“The solution is hydrogen,” Forrest said recently in his ABC Boyer talk.

Business Manager Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest
Andrew Forrest firmly believes in the future of hydrogen production for Australia.(ABC News)

He already has skin in the game after he was formally awarded a $ 30 million grant from the coalition for early works at a hydrocarbon power plant in Port Kembla through his company Australian Industrial Power.

He has also been in talks with BlueScope about producing hydrogen for both the steel plant and his power plant.

Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group also has plans for a green steel pilot plant in its home country of Western Australia.

“We aim to start building Australia’s first pilot steel in green steel this year with a commercial plant in Pilbara, powered solely by wind and solar, in the next few years,” he said at the Boyer lecture.

Sir. Kean is equally enthusiastic, recently declaring that hydrogen will play a key role in decarbonising the economy and helping lower energy costs.

How it was done in Sweden

Much has been made of the Swedish company SSAB, which developed a hydrogen process for the production of steel.

The prototype steel was then used by Volvo to make a car and placed them as pioneers.

Not surprisingly, the Swedish steelmaker is hugely proud of its performance.

“The first fossil-free steel in the world is not only a breakthrough for SSAB, it represents the proof that it is possible to make the transition and significantly reduce the steel industry’s global CO2 footprint,” President and CEO Martin Lindqvist said in a company statement in August. .

And it has it without a doubt.

Still early days for BlueScope

But the man accused of forging a green steel path at BlueScope is not entirely convinced that the Swedish model can be replicated on a large scale. Not yet yet.

Mr Page welcomed the SSAB breakthrough, which was achieved after entering into a partnership with an iron ore producer and the Swedish government.

He said five years after the start of the project, they produced 100 tons of steel.

“Just to give you a perspective, we’re doing 800 tonnes here a day in Port Kembla,” Page said.

“And we believe that the transition to green steel still has a long way to go.

“It’s not going to be a day or a month or a year, it’s going to be decades.”

head and shoulders photo by Gretta Stephens
Gretta Stephens was named BlueScope’s CEO for Climate Change in February.(Available: BlueScope)

These long-term prospects are shared by BlueScope’s new CEO for Climate Change, Gretta Stephens.

“It needs to build up this huge amount of renewable energy and an entire hydrogen industry, and it’s not BlueScope alone that is doing it.”

The future of green steel at Port Kembla awaits.

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Green hydrogen: The latest buzzword for climate change(Landline)

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