Claim: Green Steel “Decades Off”, Requires “Affordable Renewables”

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

BlueScope Steel has poured cold water on fantasies that “green steel”, steel produced by hydrogen reduction rather than a fossil fuel powered blast furnace, will be commercially viable anytime soon.

BlueScope’s climate change boss warns green steel still decades off

ABC Illawarra / By Ainslie Drewitt-Smith
Posted Mon 20 Sep 2021 at 4:40pm

The chief executive of climate change at BlueScope has addressed investors for the first time in her new role, indicating breakthrough technologies that will allow the company to transition to green steel production are not likely to be available until the 2040s.

Key points:

  • BlueScope’s chief executive of climate change says green steel transition is decades away
  • Gretta Stephens addressed the company’s investor briefing for the first time in the new role on Monday 
  • CEO Mark Vasella also revealed the steel maker was considering plans to diversify its offering in the US  

Gretta Stephens was named to lead the steelmaker’s climate change team in February as the business formalised its commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its operations by 2050.

During her presentation at the company’s investor briefing on Monday, Ms Stephens said while the decarbonisation process was technically feasible, it was still a long way from being commercially viable.

She said it would be dependent upon access to affordable renewable energy, the availability of competitively priced hydrogen as well as government policy settings that supported the company’s investment.

Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-20/bluescope-investors-briefing-told-green-steel-decades-off-/100476858

I think the translation of that corporate gobbledygook is “give us loads of money, and we’ll pretend it is happening”.

Sweden’s SAAB, a rival steel maker, recently claimed a green steel breakthrough.

How do we reconcile BlueScope’s pessimism, with SAAB’s optimism? I’ve got my own views, but I’d love to read everyone elses ideas of what is happening.

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markl
September 22, 2021 2:08 pm

So another “we’ve proven we can stop AGW” despite the pesky details.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 22, 2021 2:08 pm

Ok, all they need is affordable renewables? How about Reliable renewables! Steel is one of those tricky things that you have to keep on once you start. No shutting down production if the grid goes down then starting up again.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 22, 2021 2:29 pm

No shutting down production if the grid goes down then starting up again.

It’s ok, they are halfway there already. They can shut down production.

Starting it up again, not so much…

SxyxS
Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 22, 2021 3:23 pm

They are not affordable – not even close..
The only reason they can pretend that they are affordable
is bcause of conventional energy production.
Without “anti green energy ” they would not even be able to produce all the fancy stuff.
There’s a reason why china is building coal plants like crazy(so they can built cheap solar panels) just as there is a reason why china is building artificial islands (no sea level rise)

Green ( new deal)energy is only affordable and reliable as long as someone else/another system pays the prize/does the work(= caviar communism)
but as soon green energy reaches a critical mass/percentage that can no longer be compensated by conventional energy when it fails energy will become much more expensive and so will everything else.
100% Green Energy would be barely able to produce enough energy to maintain its own infrastructure and the most basic supply.

Reply to  SxyxS
September 22, 2021 5:54 pm

They only need affordable renewables for an affordable green steel.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Curious George
September 22, 2021 6:48 pm

They only need affordable renewables for an affordable green steel.

That’s alright, then. I confidently predict that the amount of affordable renewable energy will always keep pace with the amount of affordable green steel. Job done!

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
September 22, 2021 9:29 pm

And I only need a herd of unicorn to produce unicorn flatulence to fuel the world. Then I would be King because I owned all the unicorns.

Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
September 22, 2021 9:27 pm

Affordable wind and solar by themselves will never happen. Making steel or aluminum totally by electric arc furnaces and hydrogen for steel requires reliable delivery of lots of electricity. That will never be a feature of wind and solar, even with all the batteries one could imagine.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 23, 2021 1:20 am

This obsession with making everything electric makes no sense at all. None of these clowns seem to realize that you can’t shut down reliable electricity while at the same time demanding that everything run on electricity. They can’t seem to grasp the concept that just because you want it that way doesn’t mean you are going to get it. Between heat pumps that really don’t make houses very warm to EVs that don’t go very far, and all the other little electric things that are essential to the whole thing working and before you know it you are sitting in a cold dark room starving to death.

Maybe this has something to do with a lot of people still thinking that electricity is some sort of magic that flows with the flip of a switch. After all, for many of them that is about as far as their experience with electricity goes.

Mr.
September 22, 2021 2:39 pm

If cost was no barrier, we wouldn’t be using steel.

Titanium would have cornered the market.

Reply to  Mr.
September 22, 2021 2:53 pm

My understanding is that titanium is quite difficult to work with. Ben Rich, one of the designers of the SR 71 used several pages to outline the problems Lockheed has working with titanium.

Mr.
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 22, 2021 3:17 pm

Yeah Tom but I don’t think much industrial steel is used in aircraft.

Maybe in the Aeroflot fleet though.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroflot_accidents_and_incidents

pigs_in_space
Reply to  Mr.
September 22, 2021 10:41 pm

Apart from SSJ, Aeroflot use all western built aircraft all Airbus and Boeing.

I fly on them (very) regularly.

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 22, 2021 8:23 pm

G’Day Tom,

“…used several pages …”

From “The Skunk Works” I believe?

pigs_in_space
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 22, 2021 10:36 pm

Titanium is used in large quantities in Russian mil aircraft,- because it’s cheap, nothing to do with difficulties of use.

There’s a reason to keep Ti expensive,- to protect a near military monopoly, so it’s not hard to work when you know how.

Timet, eg. for car springs has serious advantages, but the price of al-v alloys in the west makes it impossible, inc all the type approval crap it has to go through.

eg.
I have Ti glasses,- uses Russian Ti from locally sourced Ural Ti, which is then exported to PRC to make the frames, then reimported (!), giving China their massive profit margins…..(it’s the most expensive part).

Next comes Russian optics, which are some of the finest in the world, (but cheap) then the whole thing is put together at the local shop, on another margin.

Fact is, this way they still cost me 1/5 of the price I would buy in France, and they can be repaired, which almost nobody can do in the EU. (Ti welding in Russia is easy).

Problem is, I can’t export such a product and make loads of cash, for the simple reason the EU would refuse to give me CE approval.

Been there, done that, seen the video.

Rusty
Reply to  pigs_in_space
September 23, 2021 4:48 am

Historically very little Ti alloys were used in Russian aircraft even though the material was abundant and relatively cheap.

The reason was simple: they lacked the technologies to produce high grade alloys and process them. They are still way behind the West when it comes to alloy and composite development.

Their engines had very short lifetime duration.

A good example would be Rolls Royce’s hollow titanium wide chord diffusion bonded and super-plastically formed fan blades. That tech has been around for decades in the West and is only now being used on more modern Russian aero-engines.

I’m a metallurgist with 25 years experience in the aerospace industry. 😉

pigs_in_space
Reply to  Rusty
September 23, 2021 8:20 am

“The reason was simple: they lacked the technologies to produce high grade alloys and process them. They are still way behind the West when it comes to alloy and composite development.
Their engines had very short lifetime duration.”

You really believe the bollox you just wrote?
One of my contacts in Moscow is what we call “Mr Titanium”.
It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with “lacking the technologies” FFS!
It was all about lack of proper investment over 30yrs, which is why the TU204/214 series was a commercial fail.

oh while you think about it, it’s still Russian rocket engines putting US made stuff in space!

Btw our city actually MAKES high grade jet engines, the ones you claim have short duration, like the ones that pump gas and oil all the way from central Siberia to Germany 24/7/365…

I can forgive you talking rubbish from sheer ignorance, but claiming to be who you are after those gaffs, makes you out to be a fake as well!

FFS read up proper info or visit Russia before you spout such claptrap.

Rusty
Reply to  pigs_in_space
September 23, 2021 12:43 pm

I don’t know why you’ve taken that line.

I quantified my post with the words ‘”historically’ (with regard to titanium alloy use) and ‘had’ (with regard to engine duration) both which are past-participles.

Russia may now have reliable jet engines, but they are no way comparable with engines produced by many different countries in the West, military or civilian.

I very much doubt any Russian military engine can get anywhere near the mean time between overhaul of 1200 hours that an EJ200 can do. I know of some engines which are pushing well over 1600 hours on the wing. Remarkable when you consider 30 years ago an RB199 would be lucky to see 300, yet has managed to pass way more than double that with subsequent engine marks, experience with monitoring, maintenance and mods/upgrades.

There’s a reason why the vast majority of commercial jet engines whether for narrow, wide-bodied, regional or private jets are produced in the West as are the airframes and systems.

Russians aren’t stupid or technologically incapable, far from it, as your example of reliable rocket engines shows, but they still have a long way to to catch up in jet engine development.

It also doesn’t mean that what is produced isn’t fit for purpose within the scope of requirement as can be seen with Soviet policy during the cold war – build ’em cheap and swap them out more often for overhaul.

I shan’t bite with regard to you thinking I’m fake because I have the knowledge and experience to counter such claims. If you wish to talk about Ti alloy processing whether it’s alpha, alpha-beta, near beta or near alpha I’m happy to do so.

Rusty
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 23, 2021 4:38 am

It’s much more difficult to work with including welding. If production costs were the same for the two materials we’d still be producing and using vastly more steel than Ti alloy.

HotScot
September 22, 2021 2:42 pm

What she’s just said is, ‘don’t hold your breath folks, if green energy can’t do it now, it never will’.

Knowing full well that renewables are unlikely to even last for the next 20 years.

Remarkably honest woman. Were I an investor, I’d be impressed.

Klem
Reply to  HotScot
September 22, 2021 3:34 pm

Investers don’t seem to care about that anymore, they only seem to care about whether management is properly woke or not.

YallaYPoora Kid
Reply to  Klem
September 23, 2021 3:04 am

That’s corporate investors, not regular mums and dads. Woke is only useful for corporate virtue signallers whereas plebs just want ROI.

September 22, 2021 2:49 pm

Yeah. Affordable priced renewables and competitively priced hydrogen. Why not a genetive engineering project to produce flying pigs?

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 22, 2021 6:50 pm

Nah, that’s GMO stuff. We can’t have that.

Unless… Gain of Function, anyone?

Leo Smith
September 22, 2021 2:49 pm

ideology collides with reality
Net zero is omnishambolic virtue signalling

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  Leo Smith
September 22, 2021 8:47 pm

G’Day Leo

“…omnishambolic…”

Had to look that one up. Wikipedia – which quotes where the word was first used.

If that is an accurate quote of where the word originated, I’m glad I stopped listening to BBC comedy after the “Goon Show”. (I go back to ‘Much Binding In The Marsh’ – we listened to that show on short wave in Australia in the 1940’s. Some words that are freely used today still upset me.)

Retired_Engineer_Jim
September 22, 2021 3:00 pm

Clearly they hired the wrong Greta.

John Bell
September 22, 2021 3:05 pm

Speaking of hydrogen, my former coworker is at a place near Detroit called HYZON and they seem to be making trucks with hydrogen fuel cells, pretty interesting, I bet the place is partly financed with govt grants, but I do not know. How they make the hydrogen I do not know.

mark from the midwest
Reply to  John Bell
September 22, 2021 5:58 pm

They are manufactured in the Netherlands, and build trucks that return to a hub on a regular basis. Probably not practical for most uses in the U.S. I don’t think they’ve ever made any money, I know they’re bleeding about 50 million a year recently.

n.n
September 22, 2021 3:44 pm

Affordable… and reliable.

The Dark Lord
September 22, 2021 3:55 pm

its a con job …

Thomas Gasloli
September 22, 2021 3:57 pm

Like fusion reactors, green steel is 20 years away and always will be.

Mike Lowe
September 22, 2021 4:12 pm

Another Greta / Gretta, but this one speaking some sense for a change!

Chris Morris
Reply to  Mike Lowe
September 22, 2021 9:01 pm

She used to be the CEO of an aluminium smelter in NZ so she knows the industry and what she is talking about

Reply to  Chris Morris
September 23, 2021 5:53 am

Did she get out before NZ closed down?

Paul C
September 22, 2021 5:06 pm

Are unicorn farts made of affordable green hydrogen?
The energy input to refine steel (or other metals) still needs to occur. The efficiency is already pretty good. Steelmakers want to be as efficient as practicable to maximise their competitiveness and profits. Using the chemical energy from coal and coke to refine the ore is simply the cheapest and most efficient method. Alternative methods are less efficient, or more expensive. Electricity IS expensive. Electricity from renewables is very expensive. Making the electricity from renewables reliable, or pseudo-dispatchable is prohibitively expensive. Electrolysing water using renewable-sourced electricity to produce hydrogen makes no sense. It is basically refining hydrogen from water using electricity, then using that hydrogen to refine steel less efficiently. Adding hydrogen embrittlement during steel manufacture does seem to be a novel way to make an inferior product.

Rusty
Reply to  Paul C
September 23, 2021 4:49 am

No hydrogen embrittlement. Process successfully removes it to specification.

DMacKenzie
Reply to  Rusty
September 23, 2021 7:08 am

Yes, quite easily done with a little excess carbon, especially since carbon content is what turns iron into steel….

dk_
September 22, 2021 5:33 pm

“How do we reconcile BlueScope’s pessimism, with SAAB’s optimism?”

No reconciliation necessary. SAAB’s source for a small steel delivery made no claims about the cost, just that there were no fossil fuel sources of carbon. BlueScope has now made a claim about the cost. No conflicts. SAAB paid for the demonstration of the capability, no one else can afford to develop it. It may have been the last such delivery, ever.

I’ll venture to predict that the claim was also misleading: hydrogen used to make the SAAB steel was from reformed natural gas and or from fossil-fueled electrolysis. The source of the carbon in the steel was supposed to be calcium carbonate — requiring vast amounts of fossil fuel energy and waste CO2 emissions. SAAB never claimed that it was zero-emission steel.

John
Reply to  dk_
September 22, 2021 8:43 pm

FFI claim to be investigating
I guess people will use green wash to meet there ESG in the company annual report to keep the moron anti radical investors at bay

a couple of pages on how we have made great strides and hope to have a demonstration plant in 5 years

Most of the radical morons have blown there brains with mind altering substances so they will cheer the progress and not remember that this has been the same presentation for at least the last 20 years

Rusty
Reply to  dk_
September 23, 2021 4:52 am

Cost was about 30% more for the finished product. Bear in mind that’s for a high quality steel which would have other alloy additions so the raw cost of the crude steel used from the “green” process would be a smaller percentage of the final cost.

If you were producing plain carbon steels then the cost would be higher.

Rich Lambert
Reply to  Rusty
September 23, 2021 5:21 am

Where does the carbon for the so called green steel come from?

Rusty
Reply to  Rich Lambert
September 23, 2021 5:57 am

You can use just about any source of carbon from graphite, charcoal, coke dust, coal so long as it’s got a low sulphur and phosphorous content and even natural gas or CO or CO2 which create a frothier slag.

Adding carbon in an electric arc furnace is about as much as producing an efficient slag for impurity removal as it is alloying with carbon.

Right-Handed Shark
September 22, 2021 6:06 pm

Picking a nit here, but SSAB is the steelmaker, SAAB is an aerospace company and former car manufacturer.

dk_
Reply to  Right-Handed Shark
September 22, 2021 6:13 pm

You are correct. SAAB is the wrong company.
The SSAB steel was developed for Volvo and Daimler, and first delivered to Volvo.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Right-Handed Shark
September 22, 2021 6:54 pm

Hey, it’s close enough for government work.

Frankly, if I was SAAB, I’d apply for a government grant to take advantage of the confusion. It’d probably work, too…

Olen
September 22, 2021 6:58 pm

Having worked in a steel mill one summer years ago I saw nothing that could be green. Hot, yes green no.

John
Reply to  Olen
September 22, 2021 8:44 pm

hey they burn aluminium at NZ Steel to raise the temperature to the required temperature

I thought that was pretty cool no carbon just oxygen and aluminium

Walter Sobchak
September 22, 2021 7:03 pm

This direct reduction plant was built with private money and runs profitably:

https://www.clevelandcliffs.com/operations/steelmaking/toledo-dr-plant

Rusty
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
September 23, 2021 4:56 am

It took me a while to find it, but that plant uses natural gas in their direct reduction process which is normal. Look up Midrex process.

commieBob
September 22, 2021 8:18 pm

It is possible to make good steel using an electric arc furnace, as long as you start with scrap metal rather than ore. link Such a facility is usually a mini-mill.

The best way to make aluminium is with electricity. link That typically means the aluminium smelter is located near its own hydroelectric dam.

So, given hydroelectricity, it is possible to do some kinds of smelting in a cost effective manner using renewable energy. In that light, folks are probably not crazy to think they might find a way to smelt iron ore using some kind of renewable energy.

One problem is that the CAGW Marxists don’t actually want to solve the CO2 problem. They’re just using it as a stick with which to beat capitalism. If someone finds a way to use hydroelectricity to smelt iron, the Marxists will oppose it on the grounds that hydroelectric dams are bad for the environment. It’s also the reason they oppose nuclear energy. It might solve the CO2 problem, and that just won’t do.

So, even if someone finds the technology to smelt iron ore with renewable energy, in a cost effective manner, I would bet it’s not going to happen. On the other hand, if the technology increases the price of steel by an order of magnitude, the Marxists will insist on it.

John
Reply to  commieBob
September 22, 2021 8:46 pm

better to use induction furnaces for scrap than electric arc
electric arc uses carbon anodes which goes against zero carbon mantra

Rod Evans
September 22, 2021 10:50 pm

She said “it would be dependent upon access to affordable renewable energy, the availability of competitively priced hydrogen as well as government policy settings that supported the company’s investment”
Translation.
“We will need a lot of grants from governments, to enable your investments to be protected from economic reality”.

griff
September 23, 2021 12:31 am

H2 Green Steel to build large-scale fossil-free steel plant in northern Sweden — H2 Green Steel

‘Large scale production starts in 2024’

‘Green steel’: Swedish company ships first batch made without using coal | Climate change | The Guardian

and this separate company says

‘The world’s first customer delivery of “green steel” produced without using coal is taking place in Sweden, according to its manufacturer.
The Swedish venture Hybrit said it was delivering the steel to truck-maker Volvo AB as a trial run before full commercial production in 2026. 

Rusty
Reply to  griff
September 23, 2021 5:00 am

5 million tonnes eh? Sounds a lot doesn’t it? Until you realise worldwide steel production is 1.8 billion tonnes, over half of which is produced in China by BF/BOF route and they won’t be changing that anytime soon.

griff
Reply to  Rusty
September 23, 2021 8:59 am

Well, looks like they are intending to supply local car/truck makers.

Rusty
Reply to  griff
September 23, 2021 12:52 pm

They maybe so, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the process is not going to be scalable to anywhere near the size required, nor is it going to be able to replace the far more efficient production of iron/steel.

It’s simply too expensive and there’s no way to produce the H2 required, on the scale required, at the cost required to make such a process capable of competing with standard methods of steel production.

Nick Graves
September 23, 2021 12:35 am

Typo – Svenskt Stål AB.

Not Svenska Aeroplan AB.

The difference is plane to see.

Rusty
September 23, 2021 4:35 am

I’ve said on these pages before, “green” steel is a fantasy. Do the mass balance calculation to work out how much hydrogen is required to produce 1 tonne of iron. Multiply that figure by 1.8 billion then look up the figure for world wide H2 production.

One is vastly smaller than the other.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
September 23, 2021 6:33 am

Another “if pigs could fly …” story. Hydrogen is wonderful once you have it; the problem is how to get enough. Current commercial hydrogen is produced almost exclusively (95%) by steam reforming using fossil fuel – natural gas or coal. If electricity were cheap enough, hydrogen could be produced instead using electrolysis. But “cheap enough” means way cheaper than even the lowest rates today.

What BlueScope’s chief executive of climate change is really saying is “the market says this idea is crazy. What we need is government action in the form of subsidies, mandates and carbon taxes to punish the current preferred method until the new crazy method seems almost reasonable by comparison.”

Joseph Zorzin
September 23, 2021 11:34 am

And, related, see what’s posted on the Yale Environment 360 web site, “Can the World’s Most Polluting Heavy Industries Decarbonize?”
https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-the-worlds-most-polluting-heavy-industries-decarbonize

classic idealism

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