GSCC: Steel decarbonizing for a more sustainable future

Written by Adina Renee Adler

Steel is a foundation of the global economy. It is an essential raw material for nearly every industry, from automotive and construction to transportation, machinery, and energy. About 2 billion metric tons (mt) of steel are produced each year. Yet because much of the global steel production depends on high-carbon iron and coal, the commodity produces about 7% of global carbon emissions.

This Earth Day, steel manufacturers around the world are working to decarbonize and reduce their environmental impact. The industry is coming together to innovate and invest in clean-steel technologies through partnerships. These will accurately and truthfully track emissions, and provide a pathway for both steel producers and consumers toward a low-carbon future.

The partnership that I lead, the Global Steel Climate Council (GSCC), has brought together more than 40 steel producers and supply-chain stakeholders from around the world to advance a global climate strategy by sharing best practices, establishing standards, and advocating for lower carbon emissions by all members of the steel industry.

Steel Climate Standard
We have developed The Steel Climate Standard to measure and report the carbon emissions for all products, regardless of the manufacturing process used. The standard is aligned with a science-based glide path to achieve a 1.5-degree Celsius (C) scenario by 2050, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. This is an effort to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. It requires producers to independently verify and report their carbon emissions data and science-based targets.

In the months ahead, we will be providing steel manufacturers with tools to independently certify that they are producing steel products in line with the targets in The Steel Climate Standard. This process will also let steel customers know the carbon emissions in the products they are buying and using in their own manufacturing processes. As consumer preferences shift toward more sustainably produced goods, manufacturers have to provide more information on the carbon intensity of the products they make.

Qualities of steel
Steel is a unique material because it can be repeatedly recycled, and, indeed, has the highest recycling rate of all commodities. Steel’s strength, durability, and adaptability are essential characteristics of its circularity, enabling products at the end of their life to be effectively recycled, remanufactured, or repurposed. In fact, about 75% of all the steel ever produced is still in use today.

The process of making steel requires a lot of energy, which usually comes from fossil fuels – but that is changing. Steel operations are increasingly incorporating renewable energy, which is also critical to decarbonization. By utilizing wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewable sources, steel manufacturing emissions can be reduced, contributing to global efforts to address climate change.

Many companies are researching and piloting renewable energy innovations, such as using hydrogen gas to reduce iron ore, which results in water vapor rather than carbon dioxide emissions. Electric-arc furnaces (EAFs) use electricity to melt recycled steel, emitting significantly fewer greenhouse gases than traditional iron-ore blast furnaces. Also in the early stages of development are carbon capture and storage technologies, in which emissions from steel plants are captured and stored underground to prevent their release into the atmosphere.

The transition of the global steel industry to a low-carbon future requires a sustained commitment by producers and consumers over the next several decades. But we have the technology to make steelmaking more sustainable, and innovations on the horizon will accelerate decarbonization even more.

What is needed is a collective effort. Industry needs to invest in low-carbon solutions. Governments need to provide incentives and support. Steel users need to make purchasing decisions that take into account carbon emissions.

Earth Day is a moment when everyone can be better informed of the impact we have on the environment. Steel is a vital commodity in all our lives. It is used in the vehicles we drive, the buildings we work and live in, and the infrastructure and equipment we depend on for our modern lives. This year, on Earth Day and every day, people across our industry are working to transition to low-carbon steel, making the difficult decisions and commitments to move us toward a more sustainable future.

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