British scientists uncover methodology to scale back carbon emissions from steelmaking by 90%

University of Birmingham researchers have developed an innovative method for existing blast furnaces that could reduce carbon emissions from steelmaking by almost 90%.

The iron and steel industry is one of the main emitters of greenhouse gases and is responsible for 9% of global emissions. This is due to the inherently carbon-intensive nature of steel production in blast furnaces, which are currently the most common practice.

Blast furnace steelmaking uses coke (a type of coal) to create metallic iron from ore mined – releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide. according to dr Harriet Kildahl, who developed the process together with Professor Yulong Ding, her technology aims to convert this carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, which can be reused in the iron ore reaction.

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This is realized by a thermochemical cycle that carries out chemical reactions through temperature changes. In this way, the normally harmful CO2 is converted into a useful part of the reaction, forming “a near-perfect closed carbon cycle.” As a result, the emissions are drastically reduced by the required amount of coke and thus the emissions from steel production by up to 88%.

If this method were implemented in the remaining two blast furnaces in the UK, the researchers say £1.28 billion could be saved over 5 years while reducing the country’s total emissions by 2.9%.

“Current proposals to decarbonize the steel sector include phasing out existing plants and introducing electric arc furnaces powered by renewable electricity. However, an electric arc furnace plant can cost over £1 billion to build, making this switch economically unfeasible in the time remaining to meet the Paris climate agreement,” said Professor Ding. “The system we are proposing can be retrofitted into existing plants, reducing the risk of lost assets, and both the CO2 reduction and cost savings are immediately visible.”

University of Birmingham Enterprise has filed a patent application covering the system and its use in metal production. It is currently looking for partners to participate in pilot studies and bring this technology into the existing infrastructure or collaborate on further research to develop the process.

Read the full study here.

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