It is clear why decarbonizing steel and cement manufacturing is a priority if we wish to prevent the worst effects of a warming planet when we compare those figures to aviation, which contributes approximately 2.5% of the world’s carbon emissions, and shipping, which contributes about 3%.
AUTOMATIC LOW TEMPERATURE STEEL Electra is a Colorado-based firm that claims to have used low grade iron ore and intermittent renewable energy to produce iron at 60o C, which is just hot enough for a decent cup of tea. 90% of the carbon emissions connected with producing steel are caused by the process of turning iron ore into iron.
Sandeep Nijhawan, co-founder of Electra, said he met with an investor at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Bill Gates-founded investment vehicle for climate solutions, in March 2020 with four company concepts in hand that each addressed the rise in global temperatures. He used a pitch deck with 7 slides.
The first was a concept for producing iron using solely clean, renewable electricity without the use of coal, high heat, or pollution. BEV’s Dave Danielson advised him, “Let me stop you right there.” “If you could do this, I would follow your lead.” I don’t want to hear the following three suggestions.
Iron is mostly produced by heating iron ore in a coal-fired furnace to 1400° C. Huge amounts of carbon dioxide are released as a result of the process by which the iron ore’s oxygen and coal’s carbon work together to separate out undesirable oxygen atoms and impurities. 90% of the greenhouse gas produced by the entire process is attributable to the stage when iron is created. The iron is then put through a series of procedures to become steel. Without using expensive technologies, producing iron at mild temperatures and without coal would bypass the step that produces the highest pollutants.
Danielson was intrigued by the concept because of this. Affordable green steel is a significant development that has the potential to upend a market that brings in more than $870 billion annually. BEV contributed $2.5 million to the development of Electra. It has so far raised $80 million in total to carry out its innovative process.
Boston Metal and other businesses are attempting to decarbonize the steelmaking process, but they also use a lot of energy and very high temperatures. Once the procedure has begun, it must continue for the entire 365 days of the year. If it pauses, the molten metal solidifies, and restarting the process can take months.
The Electra process may stop and start whenever it wants because it operates at such a low temperature. This enables it to employ inexpensive, abundant renewable energy when it is available and to halt the process as necessary until the next renewable energy supply is available.
Other firms are replacing coal with hydrogen, but according to Nijhawan, since this form of energy is still more expensive than coal, it forces businesses to use high-grade iron ore, which is a costly and precious resource. He claims that while low grade ore is widespread, high grade ore is becoming increasingly scarce for use in the production of steel. In actuality, it is readily available in billions of tons.
Comparatively speaking, a full-scale commercial Electra plant would be far smaller than a typical steel mill, which frequently grows to such a size that entire villages are built around it. With plants that can produce only 300,000 tons of steel annually, Electra will be able to locate its new business close to existing electric arc furnaces. The iron produced by Electra may also be used in these furnaces, which also take waste steel and recycle it. The process can be adjusted so that more virgin iron is added than recycled steel.
Iron ore mines, which are often located far from metropolitan areas and close to terrain where renewable energy may be produced without causing a lot of NIMBY-related siting concerns, could be the location of electra plants. Since a result, the amount of ore that needs to be carried to a steel plant would be significantly reduced, and prices would also be reduced, as the facilities could transform ore into iron on-site while eliminating all impurities.
Electra is now coming out of stealth mode, but it has chosen not to openly share its precise methodology. However, it has provided enough information for unbiased experts to affirm that what the business claims to be able to perform is technically possible. According to Bloomberg Green, it intends to start producing low carbon steel by 2026.
LESS-CARBONAGEN CEMENT Traditional methods of making cement also require high temperatures, frequently generated by burning coal, which are comparable to those needed to make iron. Illinois-based firm Chement claims to have developed a method of producing cement at ambient temperature. Although the chemistry is such that the process still creates carbon dioxide even without burning coal, it does so as a pure gas. By doing so, the costs of capture are much lower than the costs of capturing the emissions from the current cement kilns.
According to Venkat Viswanathan, a co-founder of Chement and an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, “We take materials and modify those materials every day.” “Typically, the transformation is carried out using heat produced by fossil fuels at high temperatures. However, we can now do that at low temperatures using electricity. The corporation anticipates that most of its electrical needs, if not all of them, will be met by renewable energy.
“Our technique replaces the highly polluting coal-fired kilns by performing the chemical reaction with less energy and less CO2 emissions while still using the same raw materials and renewable electricity. The company claims that carbon capture using Chement technology is both simpler and less expensive than carbon capture used in conventional cement manufacture.
Normally, we instantly stop reading when the phrase “carbon capture” is used in a sentence. Most of the time, it’s a scam run by fossil fuel firms, which goes something like this: burn your coal, oil, and gas today, and we’ll pledge (pinky swear) to find a means to collect the carbon we release someday in the distant future. Typically, we respond negatively to such blatant requests.
This is due to the fact that the majority of it entails separating carbon dioxide from flue gases, which are made up of a variety of unpleasant things. Carbon dioxide removal is expensive and challenging. However, it is significantly simpler and less expensive to produce pure carbon dioxide using the Chement method. If what the company claims is accurate, we are ready to listen to the proposal with respect.
According to Patricia Wexler, a consultant that aids entrepreneurs in scaling up their concepts, “what’s extremely exciting about low temperature production is that it’s not just making the process green, it’s requiring less energy.” Less of a scientific challenge presently, more of an implementation challenge, are these technologies. We’ll start to see significant pledges to rethink how we make things in five years, says Wexler, if the momentum we presently have holds, which I believe it will due to geopolitical and institutional reasons.
Like the uniqueness and cleantech news coverage of CleanTechnica? Think about becoming an Patreon patron or a member, supporter, technician, or ambassador for CleanTechnica. Don’t miss a cleantech story, will ya? Register for daily news updates from CleanTechnica by email. Or follow us on Google News Want to advertise with CleanTechnica, send us a tip, or propose a speaker for our podcast CleanTech Talk? You can reach us here.