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Pathways to a low-carbon iron and steel industry in the medium-term - the case of Germany

: Arens, Marlene; Worrell, Ernst; Eichhammer, Wolfgang; Hasanbeigi, Ali; Zhang, Qi


Journal of cleaner production 163 (2017), pp.84-98
ISSN: 0959-6526
Journal Article
Fraunhofer ISI ()
CO2 emissions; iron and steel industry; innovative technologies

The iron and steel industry is a major industrial emitter of carbon dioxide globally and in Germany. If European and German climate targets were set as equal proportional reduction targets (referred to here as “flat” targets) among sectors, the German steel industry would have to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions from about 60 million metric tons currently to 28-34 million metric tons by 2030. Technical options to further reduce CO2 that are based on existing production processes are limited. Hence, in the future, the CO2 emissions of the steel industry could be reduced by alternative and new production processes and variations in production levels. This paper describes four production pathways from 2015 to 2035 that reveal the impact of constant, increasing and decreasing production levels as well as different production processes. The diffusion of energy-efficient technologies, the increase of renewables in the German electricity mix and the age and lifetime of blast furnaces are considered as well. The findings suggest that the German steel sector will only manage to achieve its European CO2 emissions reduction target for 2030 if it strongly decreases its production levels. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the German steel sector will meet its German climate target regard less of the production pathway selected. The findings suggest that efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in the steel industry should focus on two areas. First, alternative steelmaking processes need to be developed. Besides low-CO2 process technologies, CO2-free processes should be considered as well. Direct reduced iron could be produced based on hydrogen and then fed into an electric arc furnace powered by electricity generated using CO2-free sources. Steel could also be produced using electrolysis based on CO2-free electricity. However, because these technologies might take decades to develop and introduce, there should be a second focus on incremental CO2 reductions in the short to medium term.