Innovation is central to our success, with the onus we place on research and development (R&D) ensuring we are at the forefront of the evolution of steelmaking processes and products. We are adopting the same approach when it comes to decarbonisation, having developed the industry’s broadest and most flexible suite of low-emissions steelmaking technologies and integrating them into two pathways, Smart Carbon and Innovative-DRI, both of which hold the potential to deliver carbon-neutral steelmaking.

Smart Carbon

Central to the Smart Carbon route is partially replacing the use of coal in a blast furnace with alternate sources of circular carbon from waste streams, such as sustainable biomass from agricultural waste or waste plastic. By making this change, we would be reducing the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere as fossil coal would remain in the ground. Using sustainable biomass from agricultural waste as the energy input would continue to lead to CO2 emissions, but these waste products would already emit CO2 as part of the natural, circular carbon cycle, as they decompose at the end of their natural life, hence this energy source is classified as carbon-neutral.

The Smart Carbon route also allows us to integrate carbon capture and re-use (CCU) or storage (CCS) technologies, meaning we would capture carbon emitted during the steelmaking process, therefore potentially making the route carbon-negative (i.e. the process has a net effect of removing CO2 from the atmosphere).

Furthermore, the end-of-process carbon which is captured could then be recycled and utilised by the chemicals industry, helping to produce carbon-neutral biomaterials.

Innovative DRI

Whereas our Smart Carbon pathway is applicable to the blast furnace - basic oxygen furnace steelmaking route, our Innovative DRI pathway applies to the direct reduced iron (DRI) – electric arc furnace route (EAF). In addition to scrap, the other metallic input in EAFs is direct reduced iron (DRI). This is made through the direct reduction of iron ore using natural gas. The heart of our Innovative DRI route involves replacing the natural gas (which acts as the reductant in the DRI process) with an alternate, clean energy source - hydrogen. We already know that hydrogen holds great potential as a reducing agent - today’s use of natural gas to make DRI implies that over 55% of the reduction process is done with hydrogen, as natural gas is split into hydrogen and carbon monoxide before the reaction chamber.

If hydrogen was produced via the electrolysis of water, with the electricity used for the electrolysis process derived from renewable sources, you could make zero-carbon DRI. If you then fed that into an EAF, along with scrap, and that EAF ran on renewable electricity you would be making zero-carbon steel. Fundamentally, that is what we are seeking to achieve with our Innovative DRI pathway – steelmaking which removes carbon in its entirety from the production process.

While we believe this route holds great potential, the renewable energy infrastructure required to create sufficient volumes of carbon-free, ‘green’ hydrogen is sadly lacking. Therefore, until the infrastructure emerges to make affordable green hydrogen at scale, we can use blue hydrogen (sourced by extracting hydrogen from natural gas) as an intermediary step, and utilise carbon capture and storage technology to capture CO2 produced in DRI production while still using natural gas.