Traditional steel production is based on the burning of fossil fuel, coal.

In fact it is one of the most energy-consuming of all industrial activities.

As a result it is also one of the highest co2 emitting industrial activities in the world. 

The world produces a lot of steel - over 240 kilos for every single person in the world every year. About 1,800 million tons in total. We need steel for almost everything.

The main ingredient in the production of steel is iron ore mined from our planet. Over 2,000 million tons of iron ore is mined mined a year - about 95 percent is used by the steel industry.

Iron ore is the world’s third most produced commodity by volume - after crude oil and coal - and the second most traded commodity - only beaten by crude oil.

The mining of iron ore is highly energy intensive and causes air pollution in the form of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide from diesel generators, trucks and other equipment.

The mining of iron ore also causes water pollution of heavy metals and acid that drains from the mines. Acid drainage can go on for thousands of years after the mining activities have stopped*.

The iron and steel industry accounts for around 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 11% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions**.

Faced with this 'dirty' industry and the climate crisis. It is no wonder that  companies around the world are racing to develop processes to manufacture 'clean' steel.

The main thrust is a drive to replace fossil fuels like coal with hydrogen, sourced from renewable energy processes. The resulting emissions are essentially just water. The problem is sourcing enough renewable energy at a cheap enough price to allow for the production of hydrogen, especially in regulated markets, where cheaper imports command higher demand.

One such company going down the road to hydrogen is Posco in South Korea.

POSCO logo

The world’s sixth-biggest steelmaker is also South Korea’s worst polluter, as conventional processes of producing the metal that use coking coal to melt iron ore and remove oxygen are highly carbon-intensive. The company wants to replace coal with hydrogen by 2050 to meet tougher domestic regulations and growing public calls for low-carbon steel products. Posco estimates that decarbonising its steelmaking operations will cost about Won40tn ($32bn) and wants to apply the hydrogen-based steelmaking technology to eight furnaces from 2034.

Analysts said that building a hydrogen supply chain was crucial to Posco’s transition to green steelmaking, as South Korea lacks enough renewable energy capacity to produce sufficient quantities of the gas***

And therein lies the challenge - getting enough cheap renewable energy to meet the 2050 zero-emissions deadline.

Another company at the forefront of green steel is Swedish steel manufacturer SSAB. They have 2 new products:

SSAB logo

1. SSAB Zero™ is made of recycled steel and produced with fossil-free electricity and biogas – resulting in steels with virtually no fossil carbon emissions. It is rolling out this year.

The first step in making SSAB Zero™ is to feed the electric arc furnace (EAF) with scrap steel. Heat is generated from an electric arc between electrodes. Oxygen is blown into the furnace, and lime and slag foamers are added to combine with the impurities and form slag. Molten iron is extracted and poured out via a tapping spout. Across the entire process, only fossil-free electricity and fuels is used – resulting in SSAB Zero™ steel as the end-product.

2. SSAB Fossil-free™ steel is produced by using HYBRIT® technology, with direct reduction of iron ore using fossil-free hydrogen – emitting water instead of CO2.

HYBRIT fossil free steel production diagram

Essentially the iron ore is fired using hydrogen and the result is that there are no greenhouse gas emissions. This will launch around 2026.

So like our article in April 2023 covering the topic of e-Fuels, the hope lies in hydrogen. It's readily available on our planet and when burned releases water only. The trick is to be able to produce the hydrogen cleanly via renewable energy whether that be wind, solar or geo-thermal. 

What is clear is that we are in a global Climate Crisis and governments around the world must support their steel manufacturers in this transition NOW.


Research with thanks to:

* The World Counts

** Global Efficiency Intelligence


- Posco South Korea

- SSAB Sweden


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