Albanese says we can’t replace steelmaking coal. But we already have green alternatives



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Dominique Hes, University of Melbourne

Despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, some still propagate the myth that the world will need Australian coal for decades to come. Last weekend Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese joined in, saying thermal and metallurgical coal mining and exports would continue after 2050, even with a net zero emissions target.

Metallurgical coal (or “coking coal”) is mined to produce the carbon used in steelmaking, while thermal coal is used to make steam that generates electricity.

Albanese argues there’s no replacement for metallurgical coal, but this is not the case. The assertion stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of modern steelmaking, and places Australian manufacturers at risk of missing out on massive opportunities in the global shift to a low-carbon economy.

Just as thermal coal can be replaced with clean energy from renewables, we can use low-emissions steel manufacturing to phase out metallurgical coal.




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The problem with steel

Steel is the second-most polluting industrial material in the world after cement, causing 7-9% of global emissions.

Australia manufactures a relatively small amount of steel – 5.3 million tonnes, or 0.3% of world output. Yet, we’re one of the biggest exporters of raw materials for steel production.

There is potential to not only strengthen Australia’s steel manufacturing industry, but also to grow it using the ore (rock containing metals like iron) we currently export and our extensive renewable energy sources.

Doing so would work to our manufacturing strengths, history, abundant resources, and would cater to the future low-carbon market that will still require steel.

There are a few ways we can do this.

Recovering waste

Seventy-two per cent of the world’s virgin steel (steel made from ore, not from recycled material) is created from a high emissions manufacturing process – via the integrated steel-making route. This involves a blast furnace and a basic oxygen furnace, using coal, coke, iron ore and gas.

We can replace the coal and coke with rubber tyres that would otherwise end up in landfill, as shown by University of NSW’s Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who dubbed this process “green steel”.




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Right now we can also boost the recovery of steel from landfills in greater percentages. According to a 2018 national waste report, Australia generated an estimated 67 million tonnes of waste in 2016-17.

Steel makes up 2.5% of this. That’s more than 1.5 million tonnes, enough to build 150,000 buses.

‘Direct reduction’ from renewable hydrogen

But the best way to reduce emissions in steel manufacturing is to shift to “direct reduction”. This process produces more than 60 million tonnes of primary steel each year.

And almost 50 plants around Australia already make steel this way. It results in 40% lower greenhouse gas emissions, while supporting a viable and thriving manufacturing industry, which uses our own raw materials rather than exporting them.




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Here’s how it works. Direct reduction removes the oxygen in ore, which produces metallic iron. The chemical reaction that drives this process uses carbon monoxide and hydrogen, sourced from greenhouse gases – reformed natural gas, syngas or coal.

But there’s no reason these fossil fuels can’t be entirely replaced with renewable hydrogen in the near future.

We’ve seen this from two leading direct-reduction technologies, called Midrex and Energiron. Both use fossil fuels, but also with a high proportion of hydrogen. In fact, Energiron facilities can already use up to 70% hydrogen, and they’ve also trialled 100% hydrogen.

The source of this hydrogen is critical, it can be made from fossil fuels, or it can be made using renewable energy.




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At least five companies in Europe are also working on producing low emissions steel. What’s more, three companies (SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall) are collaborating to progress the technology, creating the “world’s first fossil-free steel-making technology, with virtually no carbon footprint” – called the “HYBRIT system”.

In fact, SSAB recently announced they’re bringing their plans forward to will produce fossil-free steel by 2026.

A new Aussie industry

The key message is this: it is possible to create low-emissions steel, without metallurgical coal. And it is already happening.

With the support of industry and government, non-metallurgical, low-emissions steel could provide an opportunity to create jobs, develop a decarbonised industry and extend the steel market’s contribution to Australia’s economy.

Not to mention what products we can produce from the steel – adding value in many more ways than just exporting ore – and taking advantage of an increasing consumer demand for low carbon products. This is especially relevant for communities transitioning away from fossil fuels.

There’s not much stopping low-emissions steel from forming a core new Australian industry. Australia must address the costs involved in transitioning the infrastructure, to upgrade plants and processes.

But it needs to start with working from facts – and effective government support and vision.




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The Conversation


Dominique Hes, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Architecture, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Albanese pledges Labor government would have 2050 carbon-neutral target



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Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Anthony Albanese will commit a Labor government to adopting a target of zero net emissions by 2050, in a speech titled “Leadership in a New Climate” to be delivered on Friday.

The opposition leader’s embrace of this target, which the ALP also took to the last election, is in line with the policies of state and territory governments, many companies and the Business Council of Australia. It is also the public stand of some Liberal moderates but is totally rejected by the Nationals and hard-line Liberals.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to adopt it.

“Currently no one can tell me that going down that path won’t cost jobs, won’t put up your electricity prices, and won’t impact negatively on jobs in the economies of rural and regional Australia, ” he said this week.

In his speech, released ahead of time, Albanese also says a Labor government would never use Kyoto credits to meet Australia’s Paris targets, as the government will do if that is necessary.

And Albanese again condemns the government for putting $4 million into a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station in Collinsville, Queensland.

But Albanese is leaving until closer to the election the shorter-term emissions reduction target Labor will adopt.

At the last election it committed to a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030. Labor first took that target to the 2016 election and Albanese has previously said it was a mistake not to review it before the 2019 poll.

He says in his speech the 2050 carbon-neutral target should be “as non-controversial in Australia as it is in most nations”.

“This will be a real target, with none of the absurd nonsense of so-called ‘carryover credits’ that the prime minister has cooked up to give the impression he’s doing something when he isn’t.

“That’s not acting. It’s cheating. And Australian’s aren’t cheaters.”

On the Collinsville project, he says: “Let’s be clear. There is nothing to stop a private company investing its money in such a proposal. The reason it hasn’t is it doesn’t stack up.”

The $4 million is “just hush money for the climate sceptics who are stopping any real reform and who stopped the National Energy Guarantee supported by Turnbull, Morrison and Frydenberg.

“It’s pathetic. If it made sense the market would provide funding.

“The climate sceptics are market sceptics as well,” Albanese says.

“Investors will not contribute because the economic risks are simply too great. The costs are higher and rising. And the cost of alternatives like renewables is lower and falling.

“Everyone in the electricity sector knows that the only way a new coal power plant will be built in Australia is through significant taxpayer subsidies, including a carbon risk indemnity that the Australian Industry Group estimates would cost up to $17 billion for a single plant.

“That’s why one hasn’t been opened since 2007, construction hasn’t begun on one since 2004 and tenders haven’t been called this century,” Albanese says.

Meanwhile the terms of reference for the bushfire royal commission, released by Morrison on Thursday steer away from the issue of emissions reduction.

They acknowledge “the changing global climate carries risks for the Australian environment and Australia’s ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to bushfires”. But the inquiry is to report on

  • improving coordination across all levels of government in managing natural disasters
  • improving preparedness, resilience, and response in dealing with natural disasters
  • whether changes are needed to Australia’s legal framework for the involvement of the Commonwealth in responding to national emergencies.
  • The Conversation

    Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.