Iron and steel production stand as cornerstones of modern industrialization, providing essential materials
for construction, infrastructure, and manufacturing. However, the environmental cost associated with
these processes is substantial, primarily due to the release of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide
(CO2), during production. In this article, we delve into the carbon footprint of iron and steel production,
exploring the factors contributing to CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions and the industry’s efforts to mitigate its environmental impact.
CO2e Impact of Iron Ore Mining
The first stage of iron and steel production involves the extraction of iron ore from mines. The mining
process, which often involves drilling, blasting, and transportation, contributes significantly to the industry’s carbon footprint. Heavy machinery, such as excavators and haul trucks, are typically powered by fossil fuels, emitting large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Furthermore, the energy-intensive nature of extracting and processing raw materials, such as iron ore,
results in substantial indirect emissions. The mining sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, particularly in regions where renewable energy sources are not prevalent, exacerbates the overall carbon footprint of iron ore extraction.
CO2e Impact of Iron and Steel Manufacturing
Blast Furnace Process:
The predominant method for converting iron ore into steel involves the use of a blast furnace. This process, known as the integrated steelmaking route, is energy-intensive and releases significant CO2 emissions.
The carbon footprint of the blast furnace process stems from the combustion of coke (derived from coal) to reduce iron ore to molten iron. This chemical reaction releases CO2, contributing substantially to the
Electric Arc Furnace Process
An alternative method, known as the electric arc furnace (EAF) process, utilizes scrap steel as the primary raw material. While the EAF process is generally considered more environmentally friendly than the blast furnace route, it is not without its environmental impacts. The electricity required to power the electric arc furnace often originates from fossil fuel sources, leading to indirect CO2 emissions.
Ongoing research and development in the iron and steel industry focus on implementing cleaner and more efficient technologies. Advanced smelting processes, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, and alternative iron ore reduction methods are among the innovations aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.
Transition to Renewable Energy:
To address the carbon footprint associated with energy-intensive processes, the industry is exploring a
transition to renewable energy sources. Implementing solar, wind, and hydropower in mining and
manufacturing operations can significantly reduce the indirect emissions linked to electricity consumption.
Material Efficiency and Recycling
Promoting material efficiency and recycling is another crucial strategy. The increased use of recycled scrap in the EAF process reduces the demand for virgin iron ore and lowers the associated emissions.
Additionally, efficient resource utilization and waste reduction contribute to a more sustainable production cycle.
The industry is now subject to the new CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism) released by the
European Union (see our previous article).
On 1 October 2023, the CBAM entered into application in its transitional phase, with the first reporting
period for importers ending 31 January 2024.
The CBAM will initially apply to imports of certain goods and selected precursors whose
production is carbon intensive and at most significant risk of carbon leakage: cement, iron and
steel, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity and hydrogen.