Under the auspices of the American Iron and
Steel Institute (AISI), the North American steel industry began
2008 with the launch of Phase II of its CO2 Breakthrough
Program, a unique partnership with leading universities aimed
at developing new ways of making steel while emitting little or
no carbon dioxide. The program is focused on exploring carbon
sequestration technology as well as alternative energy
Such new developments are required, since
today's processes are mature and largely optimized concerning
energy use. Steelmakers in the United States have reduced the
energy required to produce one ton of steel by 29 percent since
1990, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent.
The CO2 Breakthrough Program is an
international research program coordinated by the International
Iron and Steel Institute (IISI). It involves separate research
clusters around the world, which communicate progress through
the IISI to help speed this long-term work to its earliest
conclusion. The North American cluster is organized under the
It began with Phase I, a joint program under
the Technology Roadmap Program for research and development
between members of the AISI and the U.S. Energy Department.
Phase I started with a workshop for steelmakers and leading
scientists from around the world where a multitude of novel
concepts were presented and evaluated. Four technologies were
selected for detailed concept studies in Phase I.
The four universities participating in Phase
I were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the
University of Utah, Columbia University and what was then known
as the University of Missouri-Rolla, now the Missouri
University of Science and Technology (MUST). The processes
being tested are molten oxide electrolysis (MOE) at MIT;
ironmaking by hydrogen flash smelting at the University of
Utah; and carbon capture and sequestration methods at Columbia
University and MUST.
Phase I's laboratory-scale experiments showed
the molten oxide electrolysis (at MIT) and hydrogen flash
smelting (at the University of Utah) processes to be
technically viable, which was very encouraging news. In
response to these results, steelmakers have moved forward in
partnering with these two universities and embarked on Phase
II, which involves building pilot-scale facilities of the two
processes to develop scale-up parameters and assess their
The MOE process, being tested under the
leadership of Prof. Donald R. Sadoway at MIT's Department of
Materials Science Engineering, works by passing an electric
current through a liquid solution of iron oxide. The iron oxide
then breaks down into liquid iron and oxygen gas, allowing
oxygen to be the main by-product of the process. Since carbon
is not used in the process of separating iron from iron oxides,
no carbon dioxide is produced.
At the University of Utah, the process known
as ironmaking by hydrogen flash smelting is being developed
under the guidance of H.Y. "Rocky" Sohn. "Flash smelting"
technology is adapted from mining processes and includes
advances in furnace technology utilizing hydrogen. As is the
case with MOE, carbon is not used as a fuel in the process;
hence, no carbon dioxide is produced.
The pilot work is scheduled to take three
years. If successful-for one or both of the technologies-a
demonstration-scale project (Phase III) lasting four to five
years would follow.
The projects at Columbia University and MUST,
dealing with carbon capture and sequestration, are nearing the
end of Phase I. The MUST work uses electric-arc furnace and
basic oxygen furnace slags to sequester carbon dioxide and
could possibly have near-term applications. The work at
Columbia uses minerals with an affinity for carbon dioxide to
accomplish sequestration and, if shown to be successful, could
lead to collaboration with the mining industry. Later this
year, steelmakers will evaluate the feasibility of these two
projects and determine if their level of technical viability
warrants continued work in Phase II.
These investments show the steel industry's
commitment to a sustainable future. The results thus far are
promising, even as we must recognize that this is long-range
research and development that could fundamentally change the
way steel is produced. With Congress and the country focused on
the issue of climate change, steel is demonstrating that it
will be part of the solution to this challenge.
This is true on many fronts. In the political
arena, for instance, the AISI is an active participant in the
steel task force of the Asia-Pacific Partnership, a
seven-nation effort to work toward technology-based solutions
for energy and carbon dioxide reductions through the
identification of best energy and environmental practices and
of commercially available and emerging equipment that can
improve the environment.
We long ago recognized our responsibility to
reduce emissions and energy intensity. We have done so-and we
continue to do so-through our support for breakthrough
technologies, which will provide the ultimate answer to the
Louis L. Schorsch is chief executive
officer of ArcelorMittal Flat Carbon Americas, Chicago. He is
vice chairman and formerly chairman of the American Iron and
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