Bringing to light the carbon advantage of American-made products

May 2023- Bringing to light the carbon advantage of American-made products

Many people mischaracterize the American steel industry as dirty and struggling to cut carbon emissions. This all-too-common misperception needs to be cleared up. As readers of Modern Metals, members of the Steel Manufacturers Association have an obligation to fight this false narrative. When it comes to making steel, there is an old, carbon-intensive, traditional way and a new, sustainable, future-proof way.

The old, carbon-intensive, traditional way of making steel is the blast furnace method, a manufacturing process that is used predominantly in China, the European Union and the rest of the world beyond U.S. shores. This method generates large amounts of air and water pollution and consumes hefty quantities of energy. When you see articles in some media outlets that insinuate that steel made in the U.S. is just as dirty as foreign-made steel, you should be skeptical.

In America, steel is produced at low carbon emission levels that others can only aspire to meet. Assumptions about our industry often ignore regional differences and current levels of environmental stewardship and attainment. This is particularly the case in America, where over 70 percent of steel is produced using the electric arc furnace (EAF), a lower carbon emitting and less energy intensive method of steelmaking.

American steel is the greenest steel in the world. Americans concerned about the environment can feel good about the way we make steel. Simply put: American steel is sustainable steel.

EAF steelmaking has up to 75 percent lower CO2 intensity than traditional steelmaking. The dominance of EAF production, lesser reliance on seaborne raw materials, the use of pelletized iron ore and an increasingly clean electricity grid are among the factors that contribute to U.S. minimill steelmakers’ success. The CO2 intensity of steel produced at U.S. melt shops is the lowest of any major steel-producing nation and less than half that of China or India.

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China is leading the old, dirty way of making steel and, some would argue, darkening the future of the global environment. For example, China produces almost half of the world’s steel, and 90 percent of Chinese steel is made using blast furnaces. And the story gets worse: China’s blast furnace manufacturing plants are relatively new, with an average age of 12 years, which means massive amounts of air and water pollution will continue for many decades to come. In fact, nearly 20 new blast furnace projects were announced in China in the last 24 months.

Compare this with sustainable American steel, which is manufactured at carbon intensity levels below that of the Paris Climate Accord targets, which are goals that some countries will not achieve for decades. Additionally, over the last five years, American steel companies have invested over $23 billion in new or upgraded steel facilities. Most of these investments involve green EAF steelmaking technology.

American steelmaking facilities are clean and modern, and they employ tens of thousands of people with high-tech, high-wage jobs. Many countries want their steel sectors to emulate ours.

As talk continues about decarbonization, forming climate clubs, negotiating global arrangements and implementing carbon border adjustments, steel industry climate standards must be based on four key things:

• Cleaning up the global steel industry requires an ambitious approach to lowering carbon and measuring success by the absolute value of carbon emissions reduction.

• A level playing field means using a single scale to measure carbon reduction, regardless of how the steel is made. Standards with multiple scales, including scales that give a break to blast furnaces at the expense of EAFs, slow down progress toward a lower carbon future and justify higher GHG emissions.

• Any coal-based steelmaking process should never declare itself clean, sustainable, green, net zero or responsible.

• Any standard must be easy to understand so that governments and other stakeholders can implement sound policy based on the standard. We should be proud of what we have accomplished and the innovations we will continue to make. The American steelmaking model is already green, and it works. To find out more about steel industry decarbonization, go to http://globalsteelclimatecouncil.org/

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Phil Bell is president of the Steel Manufacturers Association, the primary trade association representing American EAF steel producers. SMA, Washington, D.C., 202/296-1515, http://steelnet.org/