By following a new innovative process in steelmaking, we can produce steel of higher purity at low cost with fewer CO2 emissions:
Anyone who has seen pictures of the giant, red-hot cauldrons in which steel is made — fed by vast amounts of carbon, and belching flame and smoke — would not be surprised to learn that steelmaking is one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases. But remarkably, a new process developed by MIT researchers could change all that. The new process even carries a couple of nice side benefits: The resulting steel should be of higher purity, and eventually, once the process is scaled up, cheaper. Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT and senior author of a new paper describing the process, says this could be a significant “win, win, win” proposition. The paper, co-authored by Antoine Allanore, the Thomas B. King Assistant Professor of Metallurgy at MIT, and former postdoc Lan Yin (now a postdoc at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), has just been published in the journal Nature. Worldwide steel production currently totals about 1.5 billion tons per year. The prevailing process makes steel from iron ore — which is mostly iron oxide — by heating it with carbon; the process forms carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Production of a ton of steel generates almost two tons of CO2 emissions, according to steel industry figures, accounting for as much as 5 percent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions. The industry has met little success in its search for carbon-free methods of manufacturing steel. The idea for the new method, Sadoway says, arose when he received a grant from NASA to look for ways of producing oxygen on the moon — a key step toward future lunar bases.
On the other hand, as we experience today’s energy revolution, the old energy approaches seem to stay strong:
Technology created an energy revolution over the past decade—just not the one we expected. By now, cars were supposed to be running on fuel made from plant waste or algae—or powered by hydrogen or cheap batteries that burned nothing at all. Electricity would be generated with solar panels and wind turbines. When the sun didn’t shine or the wind didn’t blow, power would flow out of batteries the size of tractor-trailers. Fossil fuels? They were going to be expensive and scarce, relics of an earlier, dirtier age. But in the race to conquer energy technology, Old Energy is winning. Oil companies big and small have used technology to find a bounty of oil and natural gas so large that worries about running out have melted away. New imaging technologies let drillers find oil and gas trapped miles underground and undersea. Oil rigs “walk” from one drill site to the next. And engineers in Houston use remote-controlled equipment to drill for gas in Pennsylvania. The result is an abundance that has put the United States on track to become the world’s largest producer of oil and gas in a few years. As domestic production has soared, oil imports have fallen to a 17-year low, the U.S. government reported Thursday. And the gushers aren’t limited to Texas, North Dakota, and the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Overseas, enormous reserves have been found in East and West Africa, Australia, South America, and the Mediterranean.
More importantly, the traditional old energy industry paid emphasis on innovative technologies which are focused on oil and gas:
The new century brought deep concerns the world’s oil reserves were increasingly concentrated in the Middle East — and beginning to run out. Energy prices rose to record highs. Climate scientists showed that reliance on fossil fuels was causing troubling changes to the environment. “The general belief was that the end of the oil era was at hand,” says Daniel Yergin, an energy historian and author of “The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World.” As a result, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and governments were pouring money into new companies developing alternative forms of energy that promised to supply the world’s needs without polluting. But while the national focus was on alternatives, the oil and gas industry was innovating too. New technology allowed drillers to do two crucial things: find more places where oil and gas is hidden and bring it to the surface economically.Large oil companies such as Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP turned up huge discoveries offshore in ultra-deep water with the help of faster computers and better sensors that allowed them to see once-hidden oil deposits. Onshore, small drillers learned how to pull oil and gas out of previously inaccessible underground rock formations.For most of the oil age, drillers have looked for large underground pools of oil and gas that were easy to tap. These pools had grown over millions of years as oil and gas oozed out of what is known as source rock. Source rock is a wide, thin layer of sedimentary rock — like frosting in the middle of a layer cake — that is interspersed with oil and gas.
Finally, innovation is becoming a key concept not only in traditional old energy practices and approaches, but also in steelmaking, as more is to come!