A report released by RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute) that explored the feasibility of the decarbonisation of China’s steel industry revealed that, by reducing demand and switching to low-carbon alternatives, the manufacturing giant could ‘transform’ its steel manufacturing industry.

With COP26 looming, world leaders are looking to commit further to carbon reduction goals. With 17% of China’s carbon emissions coming from steel manufacturing, the RMI report states that ‘great changes’ could occur should the country follow a decarbonisation roadmap.

The main features of the roadmap include a demand reduction for steel in China, accelerated by the carbon emissions reduction target, a steel recycling drive, and the switching to low-carbon alternatives.

These alternatives include hydrogen direct reduced iron, smelting reduction with coal or hydrogen, and the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques.

Pre-combustion carbon dioxide (CO2) and post-combustion related initiatives were examined, with pre-combustion ‘centralised’ capture potentially leading to a 60% capture ratio while reducing the cost of the capture.

Post-combustion CCS, involving the capturing of CO2 from sources of flue gases, could lower the emission intensity but may add to the premium of steel production.

The use of pure oxygen instead of air for coal combustion in the blast furnace was also investigated. This increases the CO2 content of the top gas, allowing for removal of CO2 utilisation or removal at a lower cost, potentially reducing steel carbon intensity by 30%.

All the low-carbon alternatives have one thing in common: they aim to decarbonise the reduction process of iron, which is seen as the key to zero-carbon primary steel.

By reducing the reducing agent’s carbon intensity, the steel can be manufactured in as ‘green’ a way as possible.

Due to the high costs related to creating zero-carbon steel (it has a 40%-100% premium over conventional fossil-fuel-based steel), costs in other areas such as CCS equipment and electrolysers will have to be reduced, as is forecasted in the report.

According to the report, China could see a decrease in fossil-fuel-based steel production from 90% to 20% by 2050.

The full report can be accessed here.