ArcelorMittal's progress in carbon capture and utilisation technologies could give steelmakers a new role in supporting a lower-carbon future. No matter how much we try to improve our energy efficiency and reduce our emissions, we can’t escape the reality of chemistry.

We need carbon to make the steel that will help build a world in which people can live quality lives. Reducing the impact of the carbon we use is one of the greatest challenges facing our industry.

ArcelorMittal's progress in carbon capture and utilisation technologies could give steelmakers a new role in supporting a lower-carbon future. However great our efforts to improve our energy efficiency and reduce our emissions, we cannot escape the reality of chemistry.

We need carbon to make the steel that will help build a world in which people can live quality lives. Reducing the impact of the carbon we use is one of the greatest challenges facing our industry.

Finding ways to extract value from CO2

The search goes on for effective new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies that can lock away carbon from CO2 so that it never enters the atmosphere. Like scientists, governments and businesses all over the world, we urgently want this search to succeed. But alongside that search, there is also an urgent need to develop carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) technologies. Unlike CCS, which treats CO2 as waste, CCU converts it into commercially viable products such as bio-oils, chemicals, plastics and fuels. These can be used in place of products made from fossil fuels, with the net effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In effect, by getting more value from the carbon we use, CCU could help the economy as a whole use less carbon – and so reduce the emissions that cause global warming.

Industrial demonstration of fuel for the future

How does this affect ArcelorMittal? We've been exploring the possibilities of CCU for several years, because we believe it could help steel play even more of a role in a circular economy than it does today. And while it is still at a relatively early stage, the progress we've made so far is encouraging. In 2016, we overcame some regulatory hurdles to ensure the commercial viability of the world’s first industrial-scale demonstration of a new CCU technology. This was a project we first announced in 2015, but we have now improved the project design, substantially increasing the scale of the project.

As part of a long-term partnership agreement with innovation firm LanzaTech, we will begin to construct a full-scale production facility to create ethanol from carbon-intensive waste gases produced during steelmaking at our Ghent plant in Belgium. The technology is remarkable: using waste carbon monoxide as feedstock, microbes discovered by LanzaTech excrete high-grade ethanol which can be blended for use as a liquid fuel.

 

 

This demonstration project will be larger than we originally anticipated, and is now designed to produce some 63,000 tonnes (80,000 litres) of ethanol per year. With production due to commence in 2019, this project will yield an annual CO2 saving equivalent to 600 Boeing 747 flights between London and New York.

We are already ordering some of the first components needed to embark on the project, and expect to announce further details later in 2017.

Renewable energy for 21st century lifestyles

Biofuel has an important role to play in many people's vision of a lower-carbon economy. It can be a very efficient way to substitute fossil fuels while retaining the technologies that sustain 21st century lifestyles - especially air and land transport. And whereas the first-generation biofuels currently on the market were typically made from crops, the process we have developed with LanzaTech produces none of the pressures on agricultural land which have led in some places to deforestation or to competition with food-growing.

The key input is the carbon monoxide waste gas from our blast furnace, which is produced as a by-product from steelmaking, and otherwise would have been burnt to release CO2. Although conversion to ethanol requires some processing, the resulting product will still displace 80% of the CO2 that would be emitted from the fossil fuel it replaces.

In November 2016, the European Commission took an important step and officially indicated that, under the Renewable Energy Directive 2, liquid ethanol produced from industrial carbon waste would be recognized as ‘advanced’ biofuel – a form of renewable energy – since its use displaces carbon emissions from fossil fuels. If the project is a technical success, this regulatory recognition will forge the way for us to expand this technology on a commercial basis.

Our partnership with LanzaTech is not the only CCU project we are pursuing - we are also exploring other techniques for producing chemicals and raw materials. We have to be realistic - the LanzaTech project is still at a pilot stage – but nonetheless, we are optimistic about its future.

“Renewables can and should be used for power generation, but for liquid fuels and chemicals we still need a source of carbon. Today we have a choice as to where that carbon comes from: fresh fossil or reused carbon emissions. Through our partnership, ArcelorMittal continues to demonstrate their leadership in making the transition to a lower carbon economy.”

Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech