Korf-Kallanish podcast debates vastly complex decarbonisation challenges

Decarbonising steelmaking requires vast joined-up thinking, the likes of which has not happened in the last 100 years, while Europe urgently needs to fix its energy supply if it wants to decarbonise its steel industry. European mills are also ignoring thin slab casting at their peril. These were some of the conclusions by the hosts of the Green Steel Challenge Podcast produced by the Willy Korf Foundation in partnership with Kallanish Commodities.

Astrid Korf-Wolman, founder and chair of the Willy Korf Foundation, said of the podcast in a roundtable discussion on Tuesday: “We want to use the foundation as an independent platform to promote discussion around the production of green steel … We want to increase awareness about the importance of steel in daily life … and we want to get young people back into the industry.”

Consultant and foundation director Mike Walsh said the podcast is aptly named, since decarbonising steel is a major challenge, much more complicated than simply replacing blast furnaces with electric arc furnaces. While the US converted its steel industry wholesale, “Europe is converting legacy plants asset by asset,” Walsh observed. “If Europe wants to make steel … if it wants to decarbonise its steel production then it really has to sort out its energy supply.”

The steel industry will look vastly different in a decade’s time. DRI-making in Europe is unlikely to feature. Metallics are more likely to be imported from regions such as Australia and the Middle East, which have renewable energy supply and availability of raw materials, Walsh added. Although over 30 million tonnes/year of DRI capacity are planned in Europe, there is scepticism over whether this will materialise, given the need for competitive natural gas and green hydrogen supply.

On the question of hydrogen availability, “until the technology is sorted out, until we’ve built the renewables infrastructure to generate the power, there’s not going to be enough hydrogen”, stressed consultant James Moss. A host of European mills are going “gung-ho” with hydrogen-based steelmaking investments, despite all saying there probably will not be enough hydrogen, Walsh added.

The European industry is “surprisingly” confident over rapid technological developments being able to resolve the issues of insufficient renewables and hydrogen supply, Walsh said. Nuclear power expansion will also play an indispensable role in decarbonising steelmaking, Moss pointed out.

The conservatism of the big European producers means none of the low-emission steelmaking investments announced include a thin slab caster, meaning they will struggle to make the high-quality strip US mills can produce, said Walsh.

As for the concerns over EAF steel quality for high-end applications, in the US, “a lot has been learned about how to control the process, computer power is much more sophisticated to control the process. So thin slab casters have become extremely good at making 95% of sheet qualities – exposed automotive grade may be beyond their reach now, but given the technical ground they’ve covered in the last 30 years, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be possible going forward,” Moss said.

As decarbonisation progresses, the remaining 5% of the market “will be a little bit more forgiving and will accept steel that might not normally have been accepted”, Walsh added.

On getting youngsters excited in a steel industry career, Korf-Wolman concluded: “We want to bring this podcast to business schools, to young people who are at the crossroads in their career, so they see it’s actually an attractive industry to get into … They can play a big part in saving the planet and put their own [stamp] on it.”

The full roundtable discussion video will soon be available on the Kallanish website. The Green Steel Challenge Podcast features discussions with a host of top steel industry executives about decarbonising steelmaking. The first episode is scheduled for release in December.

Adam Smith Poland