News Room - Steel Industry

Posted on 21 Nov 2023

Decarbonisation demands nuclear; scrap, hydrogen supply lacking: conference

The requirements of decarbonisation may lead to the rebirth of nuclear power to fuel the low-emission steelmaking transition, while hydrogen will not be viable in the short term due to lacking infrastructure. So said participants at a decarbonisation conference last week held at Acciaierie d'Italia’s Taranto steelworks.

In Europe, there are 60 steelmaking decarbonisation projects aiming for completion by 2030, with the potential to cut CO2 emissions by as much as 81.5 million tonnes/year. This is more than a third of current emissions, Eurofer director Adolfo Aiello said at the event followed by Kallanish.

The estimated amount of electricity required for these projects is around 165 terawatt-hours, including 90TWh for the production of green hydrogen from electrolysis. Aiello expects the total investment to hover at €31 billion ($33 billion) and operating expenses at about €54 billion.

The decarbonisation of primary steelmaking has started and will see the first results within 2-3 years. The longer-term achievement goal is 10-20 years, during which various technological issues will have to be resolved including the development of new clean energy sources and green hydrogen.

A first decarbonisation strategy may involve the integration of synthesis gas in the current blast furnace supply chain produced from waste and combined with CO2 carbon capture systems, as well as direct reduction iron plants. The success of the DRI option however relies on the availability of gas and mineral supply.

Considering the limitations connected to intermittency of renewable energy sources, "it seems necessary to ask ourselves whether this growing demand will not lead to the rebirth of nuclear power, with a view to coupling small modular nuclear power plants with steel mills, possibly powered by thorium and not uranium, making them completely independent and decarbonised,” chemical engineering association AIDIC said at the event.

According to the University of Pisa, hydrogen is not a short-term solution for the steel industry due to the lack of related storage transport and distribution infrastructure. Engineering and certification body Rina argued green hydrogen has the potential to replace fossil fuels but requires expensive processes and the revamping of existing steelmaking equipment. “Technologies capable of using hydrogen are already present, for which further parallel R&D, optimisation and training activities will however be necessary,” observed Rina’s Filippo Cirilli.

According to Paul Wurth’s Cristiano Castagnola, the DRI and electric arc furnace systems also present several challenges including the availability of suitable iron ore, the need to offset green hydrogen with green ammonia when the former cannot be produced competitively, and the need for high volumes of scrap and clean energy capacities, which also need to be doubled to achieve Europe’s 2050 decarbonisation objectives.

Acciaierie d’Italia has invested almost €2 billion in the decarbonisation of Taranto. It will focus on energy efficiency and optimisation, CO2 carbon capture and storage technology, the electrification of the hot-end area and DRI plant addition, and low-emission energy plant installation.