Researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK have designed an innovative adaptation for existing iron and steel furnaces that could cut the steelmaking industry’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by almost 90%. 

If implemented in the UK alone, the system could deliver cost savings of £1.28bn ($1.56bn) in five years while reducing overall UK emissions by 2.9%, according to the paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production

A steel furnace at a factory in Sheffield, England. (Photo by Monty Rakusen via Getty Images)

The new ‘closed loop’ carbon recycling system could replace 90% of the coke typically used in current blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace systems, while producing oxygen as a byproduct. The system captures the CO2 from the top gas and reduces it to carbon monoxide (CO) using a crystalline mineral lattice called a perovskite material. The perovskite allows the reactions to take place within a 700–800oC temperature range that can be powered by renewable energy sources or generated using heat exchangers connected to the blast furnaces.  

The perovskite splits the CO2 into oxygen, which is absorbed into the lattice, and CO, which is fed back into the blast furnace. The perovskite can then be regenerated into its original form by a chemical reaction that takes place in a low oxygen environment, with the oxygen byproduct used to produce steel in a basic oxygen furnace. 

“Current proposals for decarbonising the steel sector rely on phasing out existing plants and introducing electric arc furnaces powered by renewable electricity,” said University of Birmingham professor Yulong Ding in a statement. “However, an electric arc furnace plant can cost over £1bn to build, which makes this switch economically unfeasible in the time remaining to meet the Paris Climate Agreement.  

“The system we are proposing can be retrofitted to existing plants, which reduces the risk of stranded assets, and both the reduction in CO2, and the cost savings, are seen immediately.” Steelmaking is one of the most important – and most difficult – emissions sources to tackle. 

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