Helping a heavy industry reach net-zero


Scientists have secured funding to investigate ways the UK steel industry can be decarbonised within 30 years.

Steel manufacturing is a high carbon process. According to figures from the World Steel Association, every tonne that is manufactured creates 1.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide, a key gas responsible for climate change.

With the UK legally committed to be a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050, the industry faces an uncertain future unless it ends its dependence on carbon.

We will ...develop a very detailed, fully-costed ‘route map’ of technologies and policies which will enable industry to make this vital transformation without it being saddled with unrealistic costs.

Professor Bill Gale, University of Leeds

An interdisciplinary team from the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield has won £1.26 million from the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), which is funded by UK Research and Innovation, to develop approaches that blend technology and policy with the aim of eliminating the industry’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Professor Nick Eyre, CREDS Director, said: “Decarbonising the UK energy system is a major national challenge for the coming decades, nowhere more so than in major industrial processes. I am therefore delighted that colleagues from Leeds and Sheffield are joining CREDS to research steel industry decarbonisation.”

Professor William Gale, from the School of Process and Chemical Engineering at Leeds and the project’s principal investigator, said: “The reality is the steel industry in the UK has to decarbonise, but this has to be done sensitively otherwise there is a risk the industry will relocate to where the rules on carbon are more lax.

“Our challenge is to bring about real change without eroding the wafer-thin margins on which the industry operates.

“Steel is an important material so we can’t just stop manufacturing it. This project will bring together a range of experts: from scientists and engineers involved in researching alternative methods of production or ways to recover it from scrap – to policy and business experts analysing the policy initiatives and incentives needed for this change.”

The image shows the organge glow from super hot metal in a blast furnace

The chemistry at the heart of the steel production process uses carbon. Coke, which comes from coal, is used as a reducing agent in the blast furnace. Carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product. The liquid hot metal which comes out of the blast furnace is saturated in carbon and the excess carbon is then removed in a basic oxygen furnace to produce crude steel.

According to the European Steel Association (EUROFER), about 50 per cent of the steel produced in Europe is derived from scrap metal. Scrap is melted in electric arc furnaces which require huge amounts of energy. Recycled steel is only ‘clean’ if it is recovered in furnaces that use green electricity. There is competition for this electricity, for example, for recharging electric vehicles.

Professor Gale said: “Our research will investigate a range of emerging technologies and solutions. We will look at whether there is a way you can integrate a number of different approaches. We will delve into the costs and timescales and develop a very detailed, fully-costed ‘route map’ of technologies and policies which will enable industry to make this vital transformation without it being saddled with unrealistic costs.”

The research at the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield will also help the Government achieve its Clean Growth Strategy, a commitment made in 2017 to grow and develop the UK economy at the same time as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information, please contact David Lewis in the press office at the University of Leeds: