In a groundbreaking initiative to ensure optimal energy efficiency in steel production, reduce carbon emissions, and provide a fillip to the global circular economy, steel behemoth Arcelor Mittal is halfway through the construction of new premises at its site in the port of Ghent, Belgium, to house a pioneering new installation which will convert carbon-containing gases from BFs into bio-ethanol.
The technology has the potential to revolutionize BF carbon emissions capture and support the de-carbonization of the transport sector. Chicago-based company LanzaTech has patented the pioneering carbon capture and reuse technology that recycles carbon-rich waste gases (containing carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and/or hydrogen) into high-quality, useful everyday products such as fuel ethanol, jet fuel or chemicals used for production of nylons and plastics.
LanzaTech’s proprietary microbes feed on carbon monoxide to secrete bio-ethanol used primarily as transport fuel. The Ghent facility is the first installation of its kind on an industrial scale in Europe and, once complete, annual production of bio-ethanol is expected to reach around 80 million litres, which will yield an annual CO2 saving equivalent to putting 100,000 electrical cars on the road.
Low carbon challenge
Commissioning and first production is expected by mid-2020. Headquartered in London, Primetals Technologies will be responsible for the engineering, automation, equipment and commissioning of the plant, while international strategic consultancy E4tech will develop a life cycle assessment (LCA) based on data from the Ghent plant that will provide insights into the environmental performance of this type of ethanol as well as an overview of the likely greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with it. The project has received funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and was named ‘Steelanol’ referring to Steel + Ethanol.
The objectives of Steelanol are fully in line with the H2020-LCE (Low Carbon Energy) challenges and expected impact of testing advanced biofuel technologies at large industrial scale to reduce technological risks, paving the way for subsequent commercial-scale industrial demonstration projects.
SteelMint caught up with Wim Van der Stricht, ArcelorMittal CTO – Technology Strategy – and Coordinator of the H2020 Steelanol Project to gauge how Steelanol will expand the frontiers of carbon capture and recycling technologies and the future prospects of implementing the technology in emerging markets. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
SM: The roadmap for the roll out of the technology of producing ethanol from waste steel gas shows that after the flagship Ghent plant, six other installations are in the pipeline in Europe with the timeline stretching till mid-2025. What are the prospects of implementing the technology in other countries that are leading steel manufacturers and consumers?
WVDS: After the successful rollout of the technology in several plants of ArcelorMittal we intend to also extend operations in other regions and to other companies.
SM: In the absence of any legal EU framework, such as tax incentives, to support market conditions for low carbon footprint-products, can emerging green technologies compete with traditional fossil-derived technologies?
WVDS: Almost all ethanol is currently derived via biotechnology (1st generation biofuels) and the fossil route for producing ethanol is currently not attractive. Compared to 1st generation biofuels, the Steelanol technology is very competitive on production cost. Fossil gasoline will be gradually replaced by electrical engines and biofuels; so the economics is secondary to policy drivers.
SM: The LanzaTech-BaoSteel Industrial Pilot Plant had already proven the technology in an industrial setting. But that was the TRL 5 level of the technology. Upscaling it to the TRL 8-9 levels would involve considerable financial burden. How difficult will it be in the absence of financial support?
WVDS: Since the upscaling of the technology indeed has a degree of risk, we have sought financial support from the EU H2020 and Interreg programme. That financial support has been important in launching the project and to de-risk the economics. For future implementation and in case the technology performs as expected, we estimate that the Steelanol plants will be economically viable.
SM: E4Tech’s preliminary Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Steelanol ethanol produced at the Ghent plant estimates an impressive 87% of GHG saving over FQD fossil fuel standard. A part of the BF/BOF gases at the plant, now used for electricity generation, will have to be diverted for ethanol production. From what other source will the resulting shortage of electricity output be compensated? Also, is it possible to estimate the impact of replacing this shortfall of electricity?
WVDS: The shortage of electricity has been taken into account in the LCA of E4Tech calculations. The calculations of GHG savings consider that the electricity will be replaced with electricity from the distribution net with the appropriate GHG burden.
SM: The preliminary E4tech LCA was based on data from the detailed engineering plans of the plant provided by Primetals as opposed to actual data which will be available once the plant becomes operational. Is it possible to estimate the environmental performance of Steelanol ethanol based on pre-operational engineering data?
WVDS: That is indeed possible, since we have a very detailed view of all material and energy flows from the detailed engineering data. It is our intention in the project to validate the theoretical LCA with real data once the plant is running.
SM: Many experts refuse to be excited about Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU), while they believe that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is an emissions mitigation tool. Is this because CCU at a massive scale is impossible?
WVDS: Our view is that CCU and CCS are complementary. There is not one solution. CCU has the advantage that it can already be implemented now (since some technologies are at elevated TRL-levels) and, in most cases, are creating economic value due to the recycling of carbon into a valuable product (fuel or chemical). This value creation can in the end be supportive to make CCS affordable. The goal is to stop the increase of GHG in the atmosphere; CCU is doing this by recycling the carbon in short time period loops, whereas CCS is storing the carbon.