Australia’s biggest steelmaker refines its green steel plans
BlueScope Steel on Monday posted a first half profit of $1.64 billion, its highest since it split from BHP 20 years ago. In its announcement, the company, which has its steelworks in Port Kembla on the New South Wales south coast, laid out a plan to reline and upgrade its currently mothballed No. 6 Blast Furnace.
The company said it expects low-emissions steel to enjoy “significant take-up across the steel industry” into the 2040s, adding it expects breakthroughs in steelmaking technology will develop over the current and following decade.
In December, Bluescope announced it would partner with oil major Shell to investigate the design, construction and operation of a pilot-scale 10 MW renewable hydrogen electrolyser to explore and test the use of green hydrogen in the blast furnace at Port Kembla. The hydrogen could also potentially be used for other purposes, such as to feed a pilot direct reduced iron plant, the companies said at the time.
BlueScope said it is now transitioning to a full feasibility assessment of the reline and upgrade, which it expects will around $1 billion, up from the initial indicative range of $700-800 million. “The increase is due to both a broadening of the scope, including environmental upgrades,” the company said.
BlueScope didn’t give any specifics about whether the upgrade would enable the use of hydrogen in furnace No. 6, though it did note the furnace would secure its domestic ironmaking needs from 2026 and pointed to its 2050 net zero goal. “[This] provides a challenging but credible timeframe for the development, scaling and commercialisation of new low emissions technologies,” it said.
“The reline does not lock BlueScope in to blast furnace steelmaking for the full 20 years if technology is ready earlier. However, achieving this will be dependent on several enablers including access to low cost green hydrogen, firmed and affordable renewable energy, the development of suitable raw material supply chains and appropriate policy settings.”
The company plans to spend around $120 million on “long lead-time items” for the upgrade this financial year.
NSW government has declared BlueScope’s $1 billion upgrade a project of Critical State Significant Infrastructure.
Just yesterday the company said it had become the first steelmaker in the southern hemisphere to be awarded a ResponsibleSteel certification.
Last year, the University of Newcastle’s Jessica Allen, an expert in low-emissions energy technologies and thermal transformations, and Tom Honeyhands, Director at the Centre of Ironmaking Materials Research, published a piece in The Conversation explaining that direct reduced iron technology offers the greatest opportunity for the use of green hydrogen.
The process currently accounts for less than 5% of steel production and often uses methane gas to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide which are then used to transform iron ore into iron.
Allen and Honeyhands wrote that, “up to 70% of the hydrogen derived from methane could be replaced with green hydrogen without having to modify the production process too much”, and added that development of a process using 100% green hydrogen as feedstock is under way.
Honeyhands and Allen point out that the green-hydrogen reduction method still produces CO2 emissions, and requires more electricity than the currently dominant blast-furnace method based on coking coal, but that its “overall emission intensity can be substantially lower”.
BlueScope and Rio Tinto, who also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last year, said they plan to further process the iron ore reduced using green hydrogen “in an electric melter to produce metallic iron suitable to be finished into steel” — they say that, like the electricity used to power the hydrogen electrolysers, the electricity running the melter would also be sourced from renewables.
The steel sector today accounts for around 8% of all anthropomorphic CO2 emissions; and steel production is expected to grow by 25-30% by 2050.
New steel industry emerges
Inspired by the success of the Hybrit consortium’s production of fossil-free iron in northern Sweden, a new “green steel” industry is rapidly emerging globally, Christian Roselund wrote in pv magazine’s January edition.
Hybrit and other projects have shown that the process of using hydrogen as a “reducing” agent to separate the oxygen from iron in iron ore is eminently practical, if you have inexpensive renewable power and local ore – which Australia does.
Automakers like Mercedes Benz, Scania, and Volvo have all lined up to buy “green steel,” despite its higher cost.
Currently Europe is leading the green steel charge, though projects in China are also kicking off.
With Australia moving to become a hydrogen heavyweight (our project pipeline second to none), experts have pointed out that using hydrogen to create green steel and other industrial downstream products is among the best ways for the country to capture the most profit from the future fuel.
BlueScope steel will also be involved in developing a hydrogen hub in the Illawarra, which has been flagged as a priority site by the state government along with the northern Hunter Region.
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