John Brett, CEO of ArcelorMittal North America, said there were multiple ways to make steel and, therefore, multiple paths to decarbonize.

Speaking at the annual President’s Breakfast at AISTech 2023 in Detroit today, Brett said that it will take ‘trillions of dollars’ to transition global steel production to net zero and multiples of that to produce clean energy. He said that the industry must look at the availability of scrap today and the fact that it accounts for between 20-22% of global metallic inputs.

The International Energy Authority (IEA) estimates that 37% of steel will be produced via scrap-based EAFs by 2030, increasing to 50% by 2050.

On capacity, Brett said that current and future announced capacity additions of around 16Mt were all EAF-based with approximately 85% being flat-rolled. He said that the US currently exports 15-20Mt of obsolete scrap annually, but imports 2Mt of prime scrap, adding that prime scrap generation was abating. Where net zero steelmaking was concerned, Brett said that ‘group wise’ ArcelorMittal was on track for 2050.

While admitting that competition was good, Brett said that the steel industry should collectively promote steel as the material of choice for solving the climate change challenge, pointing out that steel was infinitely recyclable without quality loss and that 85-90% of steel was remelted to produce new steel and that ‘no other material was as circular’ as steel. He said that steel was a key enabler in decarbonizing many other technologies and highlighted wind towers, electrical transmission and solar windfarms as well as the hydrogen transportation network. He added that steel offers strength, lightweight and cost effectiveness to aid in EV conversion.

“Sure increasing scrap will reduce our CO2 emissions, but sufficient quantities of scrap will not be available for decades,” he said, adding that the first pathway to decarbonization was ‘smart carbon’ and the increased use of clean fuels.

Brett then highlighted projects undertaken by ArcelorMittal North America including an initiative to convert waste wood and end-of-life plastics into bio-coal as well as a joint development with Lanzatech on gas fermentation to transform waste gas into bioethanol and a project to capture carbon monoxide and reinject it into the blast furnace.

According to Brett, ArcelorMittal North America has successfully used green hydrogen at its plant in Quebec, Canada, and is planning to invest around $500 million in tech companies supporting the decarbonization of steelmaking – such as Lanzatech, Boston Metals and Heliogen – and had already committed over half that amount.