Steel production is set to become more environmentally compatible than ever before. In this session of Pioneers Talk, Gerald Wimmer and Tom Widter discuss how to “green” the integrated production route, which relies on two of the main emitters of CO2 in the process chain—the blast furnace and the basic oxygen furnace. Other topics include the trend toward electric steelmaking, the increasing relevance of direct-reduced iron, and new solutions in the field of carbon capture and storage.
Pioneers Talk is the new video format of Primetals Technologies, focusing on informative and empowering interviews with experts in metals production and beyond. Topics extend to new advances in digitalization and automation, breakthroughs in green-production solutions, and success strategies for steel producers on all continents.
Definitely, these are the topics that steel producers have to deal with today to solve these topics then in the near future. But for the start let’s have a look at the steel production today. Steel producers are making excellent business at the moment, so production is very high, earnings are very high, and I think this is very good for an industry that suffered a lot in the last years to recover and also to prepare for these challenges ahead.
Yes, I think that’s a good summary.
Definitely. There are a lot of ideas and solutions on the table and it already starts that we see that some of them are more promising than the other ones.
At the moment it seems like green hydrogen-based direct reduction is the most promising solution to replace the blast furnaces which are the major emitters in the iron and steel industry with almost CO2 free production methodologies
The nice thing about the direct reduction, I mean there are different technologies which already exist but today they are using natural gas, natural gas is already a big share of hydrogen. That’s why today these plants emit less CO2 per ton of iron produced than the blast furnace and this technology is then adapted for hydrogen in a later step. Of course, these are changes where there is some development necessary, but this is not the big step because the plants would be ready at the moment, but we have to say that the hydrogen is not yet there at the right amount and at the right price.
That’s a very difficult question. It’s very difficult to predict due to the one fact that the developed countries have a very big infrastructure with steel plants already installed. They already have huge capacities and it’s not very likely that they will expand a lot. In the developed countries the question will be how to transform the existing plants into the new world, into the greener world, while the developing countries where new capacities are required build new plants and of course for them it might be easier to directly use these new technologies. Developed countries with existing plants might focus more on solutions that allows to modify, optimize, or transfer the existing plants to come to a CO2 reduced steel production.
Coming back to the topic of already existing capacities and existing plants, these plants are producing now, they make emissions now. We know that for the climate topic the cumulative CO2 emissions are important so the longer we make high emissions there harder we have to stop later. That’s why for the existing plants it’s very important to start with optimization. This will not bring us where we have to be, but this will be a very first and fast step to start with CO2 reduction. As for the existing plants and the recommendations, we have to look how far you can optimize your existing production to gain some time that you will need to implement new technology. For the developing countries where new capacities are installed it’s not recommended anymore to install classical coke plants, sinter plants, blast furnaces where we already know that this is not the future technology. Here we definitely have to look which technologies can be implemented instead.
That’s a good question. At the moment, if we look at our customers and of course we have our opinion as a solution provider, but it’s also good to know what our customers are looking for and we look at all these strategies that the different steel producers are now communicating because they would like to show that they are committed to improve. We see that much more of them are betting on green hydrogen and direct reduction than on the carbon capture usage and storage. On the other hand, we see that our mother company Mitsubishi is very successful with these technologies in other areas and in other industries like the petrochemical industry. Maybe the carbon capture usage and storage technologies need more development and this might take place in other industries but then it might easily come back to the steel industry and take a larger share there.
The one I have in mind is connected to the metals industry, but I think that’s also the reason why it’s interesting. If we look at a lot of these ideas like electrical cars, like changing our home heating to heat pumps, all these ideas rely on the principle that we reduce the CO2 emissions by using green electricity instead of the carbon we are using today. It all comes back at the very end to the question if we have this green electricity available? It’s very important regarding the timeline how fast this transition will come. I think this will be driven mainly by the question how fast we can get this green energy and therefore this is very interesting. Also, the latest discussion about nuclear power which some countries are trying to push will be very interesting to follow and see its outcome.
Dr. Gerald Wimmer
Dr. Gerald Wimmer knows all there is to know about converter steelmaking. Since joining Primetals Technologies in 2009, his R&D initiatives have resulted in many innovative solutions such as the Vaicon Link converter-suspension system and the Vaicon AOD Damper. Gerald holds a ph.d with the University of Technology of Vienna and a master’s degree in international economics, enabling him to take the entrepreneurial view of a steel producer in addition to understanding the technology at work in a plant.
Dr. Tom Widter
Tom Widter joined Primetals Technologies in 2016 and now works in the Marketing and Communications department. He is Editor-in-Chief of Metals Magazine, the company’s customer magazine, and co-host of “Pioneers Talk”. Tom cares deeply about didactics, style, branding, the future of metals, personal growth, and the Oxford comma.