Researchers at the University of Birmingham have developed an innovative method for existing furnaces that can reduce CO2 emissions from steel production by almost 90%.
The iron and steel industry is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for 9% of global emissions. This is due to the inherently carbon-intensive nature of blast furnace steelmaking, which is currently the most common practice.
In the production of blast furnace steel, coke (a type of coal) is used to produce metallic iron from ore obtained from mining, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide. According to Dr. Harriet Kildahl, who devised the method with Professor Yulong Ding, their technology aims to convert this carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide that can be reused in the iron ore reaction.
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This is achieved using a thermochemical cycle that carries out chemical reactions through temperature changes. In this way, the typically harmful CO2 is converted into a useful part of the reaction, creating “an almost perfectly closed carbon loop”. This drastically reduces emissions by the amount of coke required and then reduces emissions from steel production by as much as 88%.
According to the researchers, if applied to the UK’s remaining two blast furnaces, this method could save £1.28 billion over 5 years, while reducing the country’s total emissions by 2.9%.
“Current proposals for decarbonising the steel sector rely on phasing out existing plants and introducing electric arc furnaces powered by renewable electricity. However, building an electric arc furnace plant could cost more than £1 billion, making this conversion economically unfeasible in the time remaining to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement,” says Professor Ding. said. “The system we are proposing can be retrofitted to existing plants, reducing the risk of stranded assets, and reducing both CO2and the cost savings are immediately visible.”
University of Birmingham Enterprise has filed a patent application for the system and its use in metal fabrication. It is currently looking for partners to participate in pilot studies and deliver this technology to existing infrastructure, or collaborate on further research to develop the process.
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