Here’s an intriguing idea: Don’t burn off most waste gases produced by steelmaking but turn them into basic chemicals and capture the carbon dioxide they contain instead of discharging it into the air. It is an idea with only one caveat, in that it will most likely take another 15 years before industrial-scale systems are available. Still, thyssenkrupp has taken the first step by starting its Carbon2Chem® project in Duisburg in mid-September.
As a steel and cement manufacturer, thyssenkrupp certainly is used to environmental regulation. But when the EU Commission and Council publicly pondered whether to lower the carbon dioxide limit for producing one ton of raw iron from 1,630 kilograms in early 2017 to 1,328, the corporation and many others in the industry began to push back. In the end, the EU scrapped its plan but tightened the rules on emissions trading.
When the European Union introduced its cap-and-trade program, companies had gotten carbon credits for free but currently need to pay if they cross a threshold on par with the most efficient gas-burning technology on the market. However, the EU has recently decided to reduce the number of free certificates by another 20 percent. It is this tightening of rules that is being met with opposition. Manufacturers in the steel industry say that there simply is no technologically and economically viable solution to meet the new requirements.
As Werner Diwald, the chairman of DWV, explained to H2-international, “The steel industry is in a dilemma. Its systems have been built to last up to 50 years and it cannot funnel money into projects just to satisfy the short-term targets of the EU. It must keep an eye on the 2050 targets, so introducing suitable technologies would be in the industry’s best interest. But to do that, market rules need to allow fair competition. Otherwise, you’ll risk punishing those companies that are trying to be responsible and sustainable.” Clearly, the industry knows it will have to become more open about each company’s carbon output and reduce emissions soon.
Reinhold Achatz, who heads the technology, innovation and sustainability department at thyssenkrupp, is not a big advocate of decarburization, as he thinks the word is nonsensical. He said that the point was not to envision a world without carbon, since “there is no such thing.” Rather, the compound needed to become part of a cycle such as the one found in nature and should no longer be discharged into the air but captured. He likes to speak of fossil defuelization to describe the method for reducing fossil fuel consumption in the future.
His work is focused on gases produced by coking plants and other steelmaking facilities. Those gases contained not only hydrogen but a wide variety of raw materials, he said. Instead of burning them off, as had been done in the past, they could be incorporated into a carbon cycle to create useful chemical substances.
Chemical industry to make use of steel production gas
Multiple steelmaking processes create waste gas as a byproduct. It is produced in the blast furnace, the oxygen converter and the coke plant. It contains hydrogen, nitrogen as well as carbon monoxide, dioxide and methane. For example, nitrogen and hydrogen can be combined as part of an industrial process known as Haber-Bosch to form ammonia and produce chemical fertilizer.
15-megawatt system in South Australia
Early this year, thyssenkrupp announced that it had received a USD 117.5 million order by Hydrogen Utility™ to build an electrolyzer at Port Lincoln, Australia. Supported with USD 12 million from the Renewable Technology Fund set up by the state of South Australia, the project will see the construction of a 15-megawatt electrolyzer and a facility to produce fertilizer from ammonia. Additionally, it will lead to the installation of a 10-megawatt hydrogen gas turbine and a 5-megawatt fuel cell, both of which are thought to deliver electricity to the state’s grid.
“Hydrogen also offers an opportunity to create a new industry in South Australia where we can export our sun and wind resources to the world,” explained Tom Koutsantonis, the state’s finance minister. Attilio Pigneri, the chief executive of H2U, added that the Port Lincoln endeavor would “provide the perfect training ground for a new wave of green hydrogen professionals.”