See the first steel object made without fossil fuels

Study the body of your electrical automotive, or the skeleton of your LEED-certified inexperienced constructing, and also you’ll see coal. Not literal coal, thoughts you. You’ll see steel parts that depend on soiled coal to be made. Steel’s reliance on coal for manufacturing is an enormous purpose why steel alone is answerable for 8% of worldwide CO2 emissions.

Nothing we construct with steel may be all that constructive for the setting till we reduce coal out of its manufacturing course of. And now, for the first time, we have now a steel that does just that. The Swedish steel firm SSAB has partnered with the mining firm LKAB and the Swedish authorities to create a brand new, greener steel-production course of. They usually partnered with designer Lena Bergström to create the first object that’s been made from steel requiring no fossil fuels. The object? A candle holder, which “symbolizes the gentle at the finish of the tunnel,” in keeping with Bergström.

The candle holder isn’t on the market, however it does assist floor lots of esoteric manufacturing processes into an emblem that anybody can perceive. And that tiny undertaking is simply the starting: Volvo is amongst the industrial companions wanting to make use of the new steel for its vehicles.

Backing up a bit, steel is the materials of our period. It’s a human-made materials we name an alloy. This alloy begins with the ingredient iron, and mixes in only a sprinkling of carbon (which represents a mere 2% of steel’s composition by weight). That 2% makes all the distinction, nonetheless. Steel is tougher, stronger, and much more rust resistant than iron. Because it’s made out of ample, pure components, steel’s manufacturing has been round since its creation in ancient China (circa 403 to 221 BC). However it wasn’t till 1860 after we found out find out how to mass produce steel that it left a mark on our world: in railroads, skyscrapers, vehicles, fridges, and all types of different sturdy objects.


[Photo: SSAB]

The manufacturing course of behind steel has barely modified in over a century. We supply the iron from iron ore. And the carbon is sourced from coal. We may get the carbon from almost something in nature, however coal serves an necessary one-two punch. First, the coal heats up a blast furnace to soften the iron ore into the molten metallic. For the ore to grow to be pure iron, nonetheless, it must do away with its oxygen. That’s the place the second operate of coal is available in. When the iron ore is molten and releases its oxygen, coal’s carbon binds with that oxygen to purify the iron, and it additionally mixes into the pure iron to make steel.

It’s a chic course of—coal is a gasoline, air purifier, and ingredient—however the drawback is that when oxygen and carbon meet, they create CO2. And that’s why producing steel on this approach is so dangerous for the setting.

The brand new steel course of that’s at present being scaled to mass manufacturing in Sweden is dubbed HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Know-how). This course of makes use of an electrical oven as a substitute of a coal blast furnace, and hydrogen takes the place of coal’s carbon to seize the oxygen in the iron ore. As anybody is aware of, when hydrogen and oxygen meet, they make H20 (aka water) as a substitute of soiled CO2. So, very like a hydrogen automotive, HYBRIT steel manufacturing emits clear water vapor.

Now, HYBRIT steel nonetheless takes lots of power to supply, and it will go too far as to oversimplify any steel as “inexperienced.” In keeping with one estimate, HYBRIT steel emissions must be about 20% lower than conventional steel that’s made with coal. We shouldn’t be burning coal for something however pizza ovens at this level—and we could have too many of those, too.

Which brings us again to the candle holder. Sure, it’s only a candle holder. However on condition that our fashionable society is constructed upon steel itself, it truly is a hopeful image. It’s bodily proof that we will do higher.