We need to learn to live with less steel – ScienceDaily


Steel is one of the most important materials in the world, an integral part of the cars we drive, the buildings we inhabit, and the infrastructure that allows us to travel from one place to another. Steel is also responsible for 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, 45 countries have committed to pursuing nearly zero-emission steel in the next decade. But how feasible is it to produce the steel we need in society without emissions?

A new study focusing on the Japanese steel industry shows that if we are truly committed to getting to zero emissions, we must be prepared for a scenario where there is less steel we can produce. Japan has set a target of 46% emissions reductions from steel by 2030, and zero emissions reductions by 2050. So far, the roadmap for achieving this depends largely on future innovations in technology. Hope lies in developments in carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen-based technologies.

In the study, Dr. Takuma Watari, a researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan who is currently with the University of Cambridge, said there is no silver bullet. He says that current plans to reduce carbon emissions make it less difficult to develop and deploy carbon and hydrogen capture and storage technologies on a large scale: “These technologies still face serious technical, economic and social challenges, and have not yet been implemented on a large scale. And, importantly, it is uncertain It is very important whether there will be enough non-emitted electricity to use these technologies.” We need to confront the possibility that technological innovations will not be ready in time to allow us to maintain current levels of steel production while cutting emissions to zero.

The research involved mapping current flows of steel into Japan’s industry and using a model to explore how the industry might change if a strict carbon budget were applied in the future. Dr. Wattiri explains that with current practice, the quantity and quality of steel produced will drop dramatically under a zero carbon budget. This is due to a lack of resources and the practice of down-cycling, in which scraps of steel containing impurities are used to make new products. It is difficult to remove these impurities, so the new products have different quality and functions than the original steel.

According to Dr. Watari, “It is possible to produce zero-emission steel by 2050, but in limited quantity and quality compared to the current total production. This is due to the limited resources compatible with zero emissions and recycling practices for scrap steel.”

The research indicates that with a zero-emissions carbon budget, production of steel goods would be significantly constrained compared to today, at about half current levels at best. In this case, the production of high-quality steel (for example, sheet steel) will be the most affected.

The implication is clear. It is not enough to rely on a materialized technological silver bullet to transform the steel supply. We also need to seriously consider strategies to reduce demand by changing our steel usage culture and improving our material efficiency. We also need to proceed with recycling to produce high quality steel from steel scrap.

This will require cooperation from those who use the steel as well as those who produce it. Steel products can be made more resource efficient if they are designed to last longer or be lightweight. Once steel products reach the end of their life, recycling can be achieved through advanced sorting and shredding to remove impurities from the steel scrap. As a society, Japan may also have to become less reliant on steel and shift to a “use of service” model rather than product ownership. Unlike today, when steel is plentiful and cheap, a cloudless future will require us to use scarce and more expensive steel resources with greater efficiency.

We need to invest in technological innovations, Dr. Wattiri concludes, but we simply cannot wait for them to emerge. Instead, steel users need to prepare for a world in which less steel is available: “We do not deny the need to invest in innovative production technologies. Instead, what we want to highlight is that we should look for more strategic options, rather than From that simply relying on silver lead production technologies Putting material efficiency and recycling at the heart of decarbonization plans can reduce over-reliance on innovative production technologies and prepare for the risk that these technologies will not be sufficiently scaled up in a timely manner.”



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