Renewables bottleneck necessitates alternative-to-hydrogen decarbonisation paths: Bellona

“Exorbitantly high” renewable electricity demand is the number one bottleneck to drastically reducing emissions and reaching climate neutrality in the steel industry. Decarbonisation pathways relying on carbon, capture and storage (CCS) for primary steel production need to be considered as a complementary decarbonisation route. So concludes non-profit organisation Bellona in a report.

Although hydrogen has been touted as a promising solution for decarbonising the steel sector, due to its vast resource requirements, it cannot be considered a silver bullet, Bellona emphasises. It needs to be coupled with other solutions.

One would be reducing the total demand for steel through efficiency and sufficiency measures. For example, moving from private to public mobility with massive deployment of public transport and shared mobility solutions, thereby slashing new passenger car production.

Increasing recycling rates is another option. This could, for instance, be achieved by enhancing urban mining efforts or reducing exports of scrap to countries, such as Turkey, and instead recirculating them to steel mills within the EU. “Such an approach might, however, carry the risk of increasing emissions from enhanced steel production in those countries currently importing European steel scrap, as they might be forced to increase their primary steel production to satisfy demand,” Bellona says in the report seen by Kallanish.

Scrap supply is also infinite, meaning that despite high recycling rates, high steel demand is unlikely to be satisfied solely through recycled resources, necessitating the continued production of primary steel. Moreover, impurities in the recycling process accumulate with every recycling iteration, meaning primary steel production is required for higher-grade demands.

CCS is another alternative. However, the separate CO2 point sources within the current blast and basic oxygen furnace route limit the effectiveness and economics of CCS, further aggravated by low concentrations of CO2 in the flue gases. The effective application of CCS with a blast furnace steel production route requires the rebuilding of the plant into a Hisarna plant or a top-gas recycling plant, Bellona explains.

Steel is a crucial material for the energy transition – the construction of wind turbines being a prime example, Bellona says. A windfarm with 1MW capacity requires roughly 120 tonnes of steel. To produce this amount of steel through DRI one would need around 384 MWh of renewable electricity.

If enough windmills were to be built to produce the hydrogen needed to supply the 12 EU steel plants that have pledged to switch to hydrogen-based DRI-making in the coming years, one would need around 85GW of new installed wind capacity. This is equivalent to 31% of what RePowerEU seeks to deploy between now and 2030.

Adam Smith Poland