Stephens first delivered a brief overview of BlueScope and the steel sector. BlueScope is a steel building products company focused on the Asia Pacific area, employing  14,000 people in 17 countries manufacturing a vast variety of branded steel products.

BlueScope manufactures steel in Australia, New Zealand and the US. And while BlueScope is a small steelmaker, manufacturing a little more than 6 Megatonnes of raw steel per annum, BlueScope plays a big role in our local cities and their economies.

As the most sizable steel producer in Australia and the sole producer in New Zealand, they also play a valuable role in domestic supply chain security.

So why does BlueScope care about climate change?

Examining the global steel sector, she said, one finds that 1.8 billion tonnes of steel were manufactured in 2020. And global demand for steel is expected to boost by more than a third through to 2050.

Action on climate change stands among the issues most important to BlueScope stakeholders. That’s why it is such a big part of the company’s corporate strategy and capital allocation framework. The company believes that lessening emissions is best practice, one that corresponds to the BlueScope purpose to strengthen communities for the future.

And BlueScope has sought to reduce emissions for many years, as the inputs to iron and steelmaking like coal, gas and electricity are costly. So this reduction, she says, is good for business.

But the most important issue, Stephens emphasizes, is the need for climate action.

In August BlueScope proclaimed a corporate objective of net zero greenhouse gas emissions (for Scope 1 and 2) by 2050 and two medium term 2030 targets.

From 2005 to 2030, these targets signal emissions reductions of 35 per cent in their steelmaking operations and over 45 per cent in the Australian marketplace.

Steel, Stephens emphasises, is utilised in every part of our lives. It ranks, she says, as the globe’s most valuable engineering and construction material.

Steel, she points out, is endlessly recyclable and everlasting.

And, steel is playing a major role in the transition to renewable energy – being used to construct wind towers, solar farms and transmission infrastructure.

And BlueScope joins those innovating steel products for their energy efficiency and climate resilience, such as cool roof solutions, advanced coating technologies and light gauge steel framing.

The steel industry, Stephens said, is part of the future. So we must generate steel where it is consumed.

However, she said, steelmaking is a substantial source of GHG emissions – attributing for about 8 per cent around the world.

That’s owing to the basic chemistry of the process to separate iron from the oxygen in iron ore in a blast furnace using coal (or natural gas) as the reductant, and that emits CO2. So, we need a different way to extract iron from iron ore.

We must close the technological gap – between today’s high emissions processes and future state low or zero emissions processes. And this is where we require collaboration.

She also gave guests a look into the more sustainable future of iron and steel production. Hydrogen-based ironmaking processes based on renewable energy will be the order of the day. Yet in order for this to work, she said, the cost of hydrogen must be reduced.

The good news, she said, is that manufacturing cost and the price of input electricity are supposed to go down as electrolyser technology is developed. Electricity input prices also must lower, she said.

She said that we must develop hydrogen-based steelmaking economies. Again, this only can be achieved though collaboration and a reliable supply chain—in Illawarra in particular.

The iron making technology also must be updated, via hydrogen direct reduced iron (or DRI).

She finally cited exciting projects in this area, such as Rio Tinto, which will present options for a pilot of low-emissions steel production at Port Kembla Steelworks in New South Wales.

BlueScope will use Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ores, with green hydrogen produced from renewable  electricity in a direct reduction process, to manufacture a low emissions iron feed. The direct reduced iron (DRI) from this process will be melted in an electric furnace also empowered via renewable electricity, to create iron suitable for the steelmaking process.

The collaboration is a vital component of BlueScope’s climate action fund of up to $150 million over the next five years. The company also plans a pilot hydrogen electrolyser at Port Kembla steelworks—allowing them to scale up, once the price of hydrogen goes down.

In addition, Stephens says that collaboration is needed in the energy arena.

To shift to low-emissions steelmaking, she said a substantial increase in firmed and competitively priced renewable energy.

Iron and steelmaking, she said, are continuing processes, thus electricity storage and grid interconnection will be important to buffer intermittent wind and solar. Also, steelmaking must be carbon efficient, and public policies must be formulated to promote and support sustainability.

Collaboration, Stephens concluded, can help ensure a sustainable low emissions steelmaking sector.


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