What is it about?
The opportunities and challenges to reducing industrial energy demand and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the iron & steel sector are evaluated with a focus is on the situation in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), although the lessons learned are applicable across much of the industrialised world. It is the largest industrial sector in the UK in terms of energy demand and ‘greenhouse gas’ (GHG) emissions, and accounts for some 26% of GHG emissions from British industry. Current Best Available Technologies (BAT) will lead to short-term energy and CO2 emissions savings in iron & steel processing, but the prospects for the commercial exploitation of innovative technologies by mid-21st century are far more speculative. The attainment of signiﬁcant falls in carbon emissions over the period to 2050 will depend critically on the adoption of a small number of key technologies [e.g., energy eﬃciency techniques, fuel switching towards bioenergy, and carbon capture and storage (CCS)], alongside the decarbonisation of national electricity supply.
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Why is it important?
The iron & steel industry is the largest industrial sector in the UK in terms of both energy demand and GHG emissions, and accounts for some 26% of GHG emissions from British industry. There are large diﬀerences between industrial sub-sectors in the end-use applications of energy, especially in terms of products manufactured, processes undertaken, and technologies employed. It is clear that the basic metals sub-sector, of which iron & steel is by far the most dominant sub-sector, gives rise to the third largest industrial energy consumption in the UK; caused principally by high temperature heating processes (85%) and, to a lesser extent, electrical motors (4%). The blast furnace is at the core of its operations, which reduces iron ore (Fe2O3) at high temperatures into iron (Fe) with the use of carbon as a chemical reductant. Subsequently, iron is then converted into steel, which is cast and ﬁnished to produce a number of industry outputs (including ingots, slabs, sheets, plates, bars, rods and sections) consumed by a wide range of downstream industries. These encompass, for example, construction, motor vehicles, metal fabricating industries, and consumer goods. Steel is also produced from scrap, and is arguably the most recycled and recyclable material on the planet. The iron & steel sector overall depends on a high throughput of natural resources with energy costs making up a signiﬁcant proportion of its total production cost. The sector has always been highly energy conscious, and has made signiﬁcant improvements to eﬃciency over the years. Today the sector is also subject to a raft of government regulations designed to stimulate GHG emissions reduction in order to mitigate global warming, i.e., a legally binding UK target of an 80% reduction by 2050 against a 1990 baseline (although the British Government has asked its independent advisors – known as the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) - to consider the implications of Britain becoming ‘net-zero’ on the same timeline). Industrial leaders believe that there is only limited room left for improvement based on existing technologies.
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This page is a summary of: Industrial energy use and carbon emissions reduction in the iron and steel sector: A UK perspective, Applied Energy, September 2019, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2019.04.148.
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