Steel Industry Pivoting to Electric Furnaces, Analysis Shows

An electric-arc furnace.

An electric-arc furnace. Daniel Steelman via Flickr

The global steel industry is slowly embracing electric-arc furnaces, a cleaner alternative to the blast furnaces typically used to make steel, as detailed in a new report.

Iron and steel production accounts for 7 percent of carbon emissions worldwide. Manufacturers burn heavily polluting coal in blast furnaces in the process of turning iron into steel. Electric-arc furnaces, which use electricity to generate heat, offer a low-carbon alternative to blast furnaces.

A new analysis from Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based think tank, found that 43 percent of planned steelmaking capacity globally will rely on electric-arc furnaces, up from 33 percent last year. “Steel has moved from inertia to progress,” it said in its report.

However, authors said, the shift to clean steel is not happening fast enough. Electric-arc furnaces must account for 53 percent of global steelmaking capacity by 2050 to stay on track for 1.5 degrees C warming. Under current plans, electric-arc furnaces would account for just 32 percent of total capacity by 2050.

“The transition away from coal-based steelmaking is underway but moving far too slowly,” Caitlin Swalec, program director for heavy industry at Global Energy Monitor, said in a statement. “Developers that add coal-based capacity now run the risk of facing billions in write downs in the future.”


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