US Steel Carbon Capture Plan Won’t Reduce Emissions Much: Critics

A more than century-old steel mill in Gary, Indiana, plans to serve as a testing ground for controversial climate technology.

Carbon capture is coming to US Steel’s GaryWorks plant on the south shore of Lake Michigan, which produces the steel that shapes modern life, from buildings and bridges to cars and wind turbines.

All this production has an environmental cost. GaryWorks is Indiana’s largest carbon dioxide polluter, according to federal data. US Steel said it could reduce these emissions by about 0.5% per year by 2026 using the company’s CarbonFree technology. If completed, the project would be the first commercial carbon capture in a steel mill.

“It’s progress, not perfection,” Erika Chan, chief sustainability officer at US Steel, told Business Insider. “We are excited about the possibilities and the potential.”

This potential is subject to debate. Many climate advocates and some researchers warn that carbon capture is an unproven distraction from other solutions that could rid the steel industry of many more fossil fuels and unhealthy pollutants. But these solutions are also in the early stages of development, and carbon capture advocates say it’s better to reduce some emissions now than none at all.

The stakes are high in the race to clean up the steel industry. Globally, industry accounts for 8% of emissions. It is also one of the most difficult to make green because it in most cases requires a lot of energy, heat, as well as coal and iron ore. Governments and businesses are now investing billions of dollars in projects to solve the problem.

For its part, CarbonFree will spend about $150 million developing its technology at GaryWorks, according to CEO Martin Keighley. He said his company can make “strong returns” selling calcium carbonate, a substance made from captured carbon and other chemicals, to manufacturers of paint, paper, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Once operational, CarbonFree can also claim about $3 million a year in federal tax breaks.

A 3D rendering of CarbonFree's carbon capture technology at the US Steel plant in Gary, Indiana.

A 3D rendering of where CarbonFree’s carbon capture technology will be attached at the US Steel plant.

Carbon free

Keighley said an outside firm was reviewing the carbon capture project at GaryWorks to verify that it would reduce emissions, even though a small amount of gas would be used to power the system.

The company – which counts BP as an investor – will not sell the carbon captured by GaryWorks for use in oil and gas production, Keighley added.

Most of the carbon captured at industrial sites today is piped to oil fields and reinjected underground to extract more oil, according to the EPA. This fuels complaints from climate advocates that the technology will extend the life of the industry most responsible for the climate crisis.

“A small drop in a very big bucket”

Ben Inskeep, program director for the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, told BI that even if emissions reductions were made at GaryWorks, it would be “just a small drop in a very big bucket.”

“This is not a viable path to decarbonize GaryWorks,” Inskeep said of carbon capture. “A lot of really terrible pollution will continue and this carbon capture project will not solve the scale of the problem.”

In addition to being the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in Indiana, GaryWorks is also a leading producer of other harmful air pollutants like carbon monoxide and particulate matter. The plant is one of ten in the country that still use blast furnaces – the dirtiest way to make steel because they burn coal and iron ore. Gary residents, who are predominantly black, are suffering from the health effects, Inskeep said.

“We are advocating for truly sustainable steel that moves away from blast furnaces,” Inskeep said.

Most U.S. steelmakers have turned to cleaner electric arc furnaces, which melt scrap metal into new steel. There is also emerging technology that could avoid coal and natural gas altogether by using green hydrogen and renewable electricity – although it has not yet reached commercial scale.

Chan said both of these strategies are included in US Steel’s goal of having net-zero emissions by 2050. She noted that US Steel acquired and expanded a site in eastern Arkansas with electric arc furnaces which have emissions 70 to 80% lower than those of blast furnaces. furnaces.

These projects require a lot of capital, Chan said. CarbonFree’s technology does not require new investments at US Steel.

Another U.S. steelmaker, Cleveland Cliffs, announced plans in March to spend about $1.4 billion in Ohio and Pennsylvania to replace a blast furnace with a “hydrogen-ready” plant and electrify others ovens. The plan hinges on a potential half-billion-dollar grant from the Department of Energy.

Inskeep said he would like to see U.S. Steel follow a similar path.

“These are companies that make billions of dollars in profit a year,” Inskeep said. “US Steel is potentially being acquired. It is fully capable of making very significant investments.”

Chan said she could not comment on negotiations with Nippon Steel, a Japanese rival.

try to take over the business. However, both agree on making climate action a priority, she added. The deal is under review by national security regulators, although President Joe Biden and the United Steelworkers union have opposed it.

Meanwhile, CarbonFree aims to begin operating its carbon capture system at GaryWorks in 2026 and hopes to expand it over the course of the 20-year agreement.

“I firmly believe that in the next 20 to 30 years we will still be releasing Co2 from the steel industry, cement industry, refineries and plastic manufacturing,” Keighley said. “Let’s stop these shows now and do something useful with them.”


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