Our vision of climate-neutral steel: renewable energies as an enabler
energy concepts | future of production | Sustainability and climate protection | To make steel production more sustainable, thyssenkrupp is already working on promising hydrogen-based technologies. Because the production of hydrogen requires a lot of electricity, the expansion of renewable energies is a decisive factor for large-scale industrial implementation. During her visit to our Duisburg steel site, Germany’s Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek pointed out that this challenge could only be met by working together. She was impressed by thyssenkrupp’s two-pillar strategy for green steel.
Clean and virtually endless – this is what most people think of when it comes to renewable energies. And it’s true: While fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil will one day be completely depleted, we can use the heat of the sun and geothermal energy practically forever – just like the power of wind or flowing water. However, the biggest advantage of renewables is that we can use the energy generated without emitting climate-damaging gases such as CO2 into our atmosphere. That is why the most powerful weapon in the fight against climate change is already in our hands today.
The consistent expansion of renewable energies has become one of the most urgent tasks of modern society. In order to minimize the effects of climate change, 197 countries committed themselves with the Paris Convention to achieving a particular goal: In the future, the global temperature should not be more than 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than it was before the era of industrialization
Climate road map of the German government: 80 percent climate-neutral electricity by 2050
In the wake of the Paris climate targets, the German government has proclaimed the so-called “energy revolution.” The goal: By 2050, 80 percent of German electricity is to come from climate-neutral energy sources – always provided that this energy remains affordable and the supply is secured at any time. German politicians have already achieved much on this road: Whereas at the turn of the millennium only 6 percent of electricity was “green,” last year 38 percent came from wind, hydropower, photovoltaics, and biomass. By 2025, it is supposed to be 40 to 45 percent. Studies by the Federal Environment Agency indicate that the 100 percent mark will be reached by the middle of the century.
However, it is certain that the energy turnaround comes with complex challenges. In order for green energy sources to pay off, many billions of euros have to be invested in their expansion and the highly complex infrastructure they require. Equally crucial is the question of the extent to which the extraction of the resources required for many green technologies is not harmful to the environment itself – the batteries for electric mobility being the most prominent example. And last but not least, politics, industry, and civil society must all act together to ensure that the many changes for our everyday lives are accepted and supported.
Innovative technologies by thyssenkrupp make a climate-neutral industry possible
We at thyssenkrupp also take responsibility for a climate-friendly industry and are actively taking the lead. In line with the Paris Agreement, we have already set ourselves the clear goal of reducing our climate-damaging emissions by around 30 percent by 2030. By 2050, we aim to make our entire company completely climate-neutral. This means that our production processes must do without climate-damaging emissions such as CO2 – just like the use of our products and solutions. In addition, we want to purchase only climate-friendly energy by then.
To achieve this goal, we must completely rethink our steel production in particular, because its energy-intensive processes alone account for over 90 percent of our direct emissions. For this, we are the only company in the world to rely on two pillars: With our Carbon2Chem project, we are transforming CO2 and other metallurgical gases into valuable raw materials for the chemical industry. It is an approach that could be implemented in more than 50 steel mills worldwide and be transferred to other CO2-intensive industries as well. Additionally, our so-called “hydrogen route” aims to use hydrogen as a reducing agent in our blast furnaces instead of carbon.
Research Minister Anja Karliczek personally visits our Duisburg steel location
In addition to our own investments, the German government also supports the green transformation of our steel and has recognized the potential of our technologies: The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research provided 60 million euros in funding for the construction of our Carbon2Chem pilot plant in Duisburg. Following the presence of Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek at the opening ceremony of the pilot plant in September 2018, she visited our Duisburg steel site again on July 9, 2019. Together with around 30 press representatives, the Minister visited both the Carbon2Chem pilot plant and our blast furnace 9, where we are currently testing the use of hydrogen on one of 28 blow molds in an initial project phase.
After the meeting, Anja Karliczek was impressed by both technologies – and also underscored their global potential for a climate-neutral industry: “I believe that here at thyssenkrupp, we are jointly developing a prototype that will enable us to put climate protection on the global agenda in a completely different way. That must be our goal – to develop innovations in Germany as a proofpoint that sustainable business practices are possible.”
Asked about thyssenkrupp’s climate strategy in the steel sector, she assessed the two-pillar model, with the hydrogen route and Carbon2Chem, as the right path to climate neutrality: “I think that the implementation of thyssenkrupp’s climate targets only works in the triad of ‘avoidance, conversion, and storage’. Of course, you have to check where you can avoid CO2 emissions. Where they cannot be avoided, projects like Carbon2Chem in particular are wonderful methods of achieving these climate goals.”
Anja Karliczek sees hydrogen expansion as an international task
However, the biggest challenge in achieving the climate targets we have set ourselves is to produce sufficient quantities of hydrogen, which we need for both Carbon2Chem and our hydrogen route. If we are to be able to produce within the entire German steel industry in a truly climate-neutral way, the energy needed to produce hydrogen must come exclusively from renewable sources. The capacities required are enormous: In order to make the German steelworks 100 percent green, we need about the same amount of renewable energy that is currently available in Germany.
In this mammoth task, Anja Karliczek stressed the need for cooperation between industry and politics, and added: “We cannot solve this challenge at the national level, but have to talk about whether we can produce the green energy we need internationally. This may involve, for example, offshore generation. It is also possible to think about whether green hydrogen could also be produced in Africa. Here, we need a long-term plan for the stable implementation of the recycling chains.”
Climate targets of thyssenkrupp: challenging but realistic
thyssenkrupp’s goal is clear: a climate-neutral steel production. To do so, renewable energies must be expanded systematically and on a large scale over the next few decades – not only in Germany but worldwide.
An exciting fact shows that this mission is possible: At the beginning of March 2019, the share of renewable energies in net power generation in Germany was an impressive 64.8 percent, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems. Keeping this figure throughout the year is still a dream for the future – and yet, this figure impressively shows that climate-neutral steel production does not have to remain a dream in the long term.