I see that Labor has found another way to save the world from the dreaded “carbon emissions” by promoting “Green steel”.
The process of smelting iron ore is known in chemistry as a reduction-oxidisation process where the carbon from coal takes up the oxygen from iron ore, (an iron oxide), to yield iron and carbon dioxide. The energy to run the reaction comes from the combustion of coal. This is done in a blast furnace and is a proven technology that has been in use for many years. The molten iron is further treated to reduce the carbon content to make steel.
“Green steel” uses hydrogen to take up the oxygen and the main by-product is water.
On the face of it this sounds like the answer to the maidens’ prayer. Of course the hydrogen will be manufactured using “renewable energy”, providing another reason to trash coal and save the world.
At present hydrogen costs around $12 per kilogram to produce and the green steel process needs about 51 kilograms of hydrogen to produce one tonne of molten iron, so the hydrogen cost is about $612.00 per tonne of metal produced. In a blast furnace around 800 kilograms of coal is needed per tonne of hot metal. It’s difficult to find a definitive price for coking coal but it looks like it is around $150.00 per tonne FOB at present. Using this number gives the “hydrogen alternative” of $120.00 per tonne of metal so there is quite a difference; “hydrogen smelting” costs $462.00 per tonne more at present prices.
The boosters say that hydrogen costs “will fall” just like they say electricity costs will fall but it has no factual basis, it’s just another dream.
There have been efforts made to introduce alternative smelting processes in the past and so far none of them have been commercially viable. When I was doing the reading for this post I found an article by Environmental Clean Technologies Limited, (see link if you are interested https://ectltd.com.au/green-steel-articles-omit-cost/), where they talk about another alternative process. The article contains the following about “green steel”:
…steelmaker Arcelor Mittal has acknowledged that industrial scale-up is likely to take 10-20 years and the cost of the steel is projected to be some 60 to 90 per cent higher than existing methods, calling into question not only the timeframes but fundamental commercial feasibility. You see, steel is a globally traded commodity, and with over half the world’s production coming out of China, competitive pricing is non-negotiable.
Labor’s adoption of “green steel” seems to be just another ruse to try and convince us that a bunch of politicians can change the world if only we spend enough money. As usual there is no consideration about the infrastructure costs to build the hydrogen production facilities and the new steel plants or any thought that it might not be a good idea to throw away a proven technology to embrace one that is more expensive, has not been “road tested” and depends on developing a “hydrogen industry” from a standing start.
There is also the usual hyperbolic bullshit spouted about Australia becoming “a clean energy superpower harnessing the wind and sun to spark a new manufacturing boom”.
Bonus. Dutch fantasies on the same theme.
“Clean” hydrogen, ie produced from electricity generated by intermittent renewable energy sources, is now popular and promoted by the European Commission.
But looking at the facts, this solution is more of a utopia promoted for political purposes than a viable alternative for the future.
A guest contribution by Samuele Furfari , professor of geopolitics of energy at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, doctor of applied sciences (ULB), polytechnic engineer (ULB), and president of the European Society of Engineers and Industrialists .