Five Japanese Steelmakers to Develop Technologies to Reduce CO2 Emissions 30 Percent

In an effort to achieve a 30 percent reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions from the domestic steel industry, Industrial Info Resources (Sugar Land, TX) reports that five Japanese blast-furnace firms have joined to establish and promote the "Development of Environmental Technology …

In an effort to achieve a 30 percent reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions from the domestic steel industry, Industrial Info Resources (Sugar Land, TX) reports that five Japanese blast-furnace firms have joined to establish and promote the "Development of Environmental Technology for the Steelmaking Process" initiative.

JFE Steel Corporation (Tokyo, Japan), Kobe Steel Limited (Kobe, Japan), Nippon Steel Corporation (Tokyo), Nisshin Steel Company Limited (Tokyo), and Sumitomo Metal Industries Limited (Osaka, Japan) are part of this initiative, which will also be supported by New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (Kanagawa, Japan). The project is aimed at the development of technologies for the reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions from blast furnaces, and carbon-dioxide gas separation and recovery.

The first phase of the initiative will be conducted until 2017. The first half of this phase, 2008-12, will entail an investment of $110 million, and the second half, 2013-17, is expected to be allotted additional funds of about $165 million.

For the reduction of CO2 emissions, the firms will work on developing appropriate technology for using hydrogen gas as a reducing agent in order to bring down the amount of coke employed in smelting iron ore in a blast furnace. The smelting process involves a mixture of coke, limestone and iron ore in the form of iron oxide being charged into the furnace. Preheated blast air is blown into the furnace, where it reacts with coke to produce carbon monoxide and generates heat in the process. Carbon monoxide then reacts with iron oxide to produce molten iron and carbon dioxide.

As the mixture of hot carbon dioxide, residual carbon monoxide, and nitrogen from the blast air travels upwards through the furnace, the counter-current gases preheat fresh feed charge that travels downwards. This causes limestone in the feed charge to decompose to calcium oxide and carbon dioxide in the middle zone of the furnace, while iron oxide continues to be reduced. Calcium oxide then reacts with acidic impurities, such as silica present in iron, to form a slag of calcium silicate.

While blast furnaces produce large amounts of hot metal efficiently and at competitive rates, the lack of an economic alternative to the use of carbon for reducing iron from iron oxides is the biggest drawback of this technology. Blast furnaces account for an estimated 70 percent of the total CO2 emissions from steel mills.

For the development of carbon-dioxide gas separation and recovery technology, the five firms will conduct research on the removal of carbon dioxide from flue gases using the pressure swing adsorption (PSA) and amine-absorption technologies. The PSA technology is used to separate gases in a mixture based on the molecular characteristics of individual gases and the difference in their affinities for adsorbent materials under pressure. The technology is widely used in the removal of carbon dioxide during commercial synthesis of hydrogen and in the production of ammonia.

In August 2008, the Japan Iron and Steel Federation (JISF) (Tokyo) and six major domestic steelmakers announced plans to jointly develop technologies for the use of hydrogen in iron ore reduction in blast furnaces and for separation and storage of carbon dioxide, aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the steel industry by about 30 percent of the emission levels at that time. In 2008, the domestic steel industry was accounted for an estimated 40 percent of the total emissions in the country. The new technologies are planned to be available for commercial use by 2050.

However, the steel industry has come under pressure from the incoming government's aggressive target of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020. The target set by the Democratic Party of Japan, led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, is much higher than the earlier target of an 8 percent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels, equivalent to 15 percent reduction from 2005 levels, set by the outgoing Liberal Democratic Party.

The plan faces much opposition from the industry, which says that the goal will hamper the country's economic growth. Industry players contend that Japan has some of the most efficient and cleanest factories in the industrialized world, and that efforts to tackle climate change are best coordinated at an international level as opposed to pursuing aggressive unilateral targets. The ambitious CO2-reduction target, if pursued, could cost the country more than $2 trillion by 2020.

Japan is the world's fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is currently 16 percent above the country's Kyoto Protocol target. Japan's steel industry accounts for 12 percent of the country's total energy consumption. According to estimates provided by JISF, while the country's carbon-dioxide emissions from energy consumption increased 15.1 percent from 1990 to 2007, the steel industry registered a decrease of 1.8 percent in emissions, although crude steel output rose by 8.8 percent during the same period.