Decarbonising the Steel Industry: New System Unveiled

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from steel and iron furnaces could be reduced by as much as 90% in the future thanks to a 'novel adaptation' that has been designed by researchers at the University of Birmingham. 

Among all of the world's industrial sectors, iron and steelmaking is responsible for the largest amount of emitted CO2, accounting for around 9% of the world's total emissions. The International Renewable Energy Agency has stated that these industries must achieve a reduction in emissions of a massive 90% by 2050 in order to limit the warming of Earth to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. 

The new adaptation for iron and steel furnaces has been devised and developed by Dr Harriet Kildahl and Professor Yulong Ding, both from the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham. Details of the proposed system were recently published in the respected and authoritative Journal of Cleaner Production. Figures given in the paper show that implementing the system in the UK could reduce the country's overall emissions by a factor of 2.9%, in addition to delivering cost savings of up to £1.28bn in five years. 

The impressive reduction in emissions provided by the novel system is achieved using a closed-loop carbon recycling system, which would replace as much as 90% of the coke that is currently used to power blast furnaces. CO2 from the furnace's top gas is captured using what is known as a 'perovskite' material, which is a crystalline mineral lattice. The perovskite splits CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen: the harmless oxygen is emitted into the atmosphere while the dangerous CO2 is returned to the blast furnace. 

Professor Ding noted that current proposals for decarbonisation of the steel sector are confined to first phasing out existing furnaces and then replacing them with new electric arc furnaces that are powered using electricity from renewable sources. The problem is that these electric arc furnaces can cost in excess of £1bn to build, making the replacement 'economically unfeasible in the time remaining to meet the Paris Climate Agreement'.­ 

"The system we are proposing can be retrofitted to existing plants, which reduces the risk of stranded assets, and both the reduction in CO2, and the cost savings, are seen immediately," said the professor. 

A patent application covering the new system and its use in the steel and iron production industry has been filed by the University of Birmingham Enterprise. The organisation is now seeking 'long-term partners to participate in pilot studies, deliver this technology to existing infrastructure, or collaborate on further research to develop the system'. 

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