Steel to Zero – how steel will go green

Steel products are ubiquitous – cars, washing machines, surgical needles, and many other products that play an important role in our lives would be just as inconceivable without steel materials as would wind turbines, which play a key role in driving the energy revolution. When considering how steel products can become green, the entire value chain must be taken into account. This is what we are doing in our new podcast Steel to Zero.

Germany is aiming to become as greenhouse gas neutral as possible by 2045. This also applies to the steel industry. There are plenty of good ideas out there on the road to this goal, but also plenty of challenges. The important thing is that decarbonization will only succeed as quickly as possible if all the companies in the value chain work together to achieve it. In our new podcast Steel to Zero, we present the interrelationships between the different stages of the value chain in relation to decarbonization and highlight potential courses of action. To this end, we let proven experts have their say.

We hope you enjoy listening and gain new insights from our podcast Steel to Zero: How steel will go green.

Episode 1 – The challenge: the steel industry’s complex value chain

In order to significantly reduce carbon emissions from steel, we need to look at every level of the value chain. In this first episode of our podcast, you’ll learn how Waelzholz, as a technology leader in the cold rolling industry and an integral part of this value chain, is heading down the path to carbon neutrality and what role the system we’ve developed to precisely track and allocate the carbon emissions of each material version plays in this process.

Guests:
Dr. Heino Buddenberg (CEO of C.D. Wälzholz GmbH & Co. KG)
Dr. Matthias Gierse (Managing Director Sales and Purchasing of C.D. Wälzholz GmbH & Co. KG)

Host:
Ute Neuhaus

Transcript of podcast episode 1


THE CHALLENGE: THE STEEL INDUSTRY’S COMPLEX VALUE CHAIN


[Theme song]

Host Ute Neuhaus: Steel to Zero – how steel will go green. The sustainability podcast by Waelzholz.

[Theme song]

Original speaker Ute Neuhaus: My name is Ute Neuhaus, and I’m the host of our German podcast series. In order to make it accessible to an international audience as well, we’ve had the conversations professionally dubbed by native English speakers.

[Theme song]

In order to meet the EU’s emissions targets, steel must become green by 2050. Steel is ubiquitous in our everyday lives, and also plays an important role in the energy revolution. It’s found in the eco-friendly electric car we drive to work, and it’s also found in the energy-efficient washing machine we use to wash our socks. The electricity for both will then – hopefully – come from wind turbines that require steel to build. So steel makes green things, but steel itself isn’t green – it’s a major source of carbon emissions. So just how can steel become green itself? What needs to be done to meet the EU’s emissions targets? These are the questions we will be addressing in our sustainability podcast Steel to Zero. My name is Ute Neuhaus and I’ve worked in the steel processing industry myself for many years.

[Theme song]

Host Ute Neuhaus: To kick off the series, I’m speaking with two experts who have a close eye on steel’s entire journey – from the blast furnace to the end user. In the studio with me today are Dr. Heino Buddenberg and Dr. Matthias Gierse, both general managers of C.D. Wälzholz GmbH & Co. KG, headquartered in Hagen, Germany. But before we get to talking about green steel – Dr. Buddenberg, can you briefly explain what a cold rolling mill is exactly?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: I’d be happy to. Cold rolling refers to the further processing of hot rolled steel strip that we purchase from steel producers. Waelzholz rolls, heat treats, and finishes this steel, to name just a few core processes, and in doing so we give our cold rolled materials a wide variety of properties that are precisely tailored to the requirements of the final products.

Host Ute Neuhaus: So is Waelzholz something of an intermediary between steel manufacturers and customers?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Yes, that’s one way to describe it. We translate the properties that a final product needs to have into demands that the required steel needs to meet. This leads to specifications for the steel mill and we then process the hot strip for our customers into customized materials that possess specific properties.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And these are materials that can also make the customer’s product green – or at least greener?

Dr. Gierse, in my introduction I mentioned – maybe somewhat simplistically – that an electric car and a washing machine are examples of sustainable products made with steel. Is the steel industry contributing to the energy revolution? Or is it merely a major source of carbon emissions that it is so much in the public eye as at the moment?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: I think you have to paint a more nuanced picture. A significant amount of carbon emissions are generated during the production of steel. Nevertheless, steel plays a vital role in the energy revolution. It is simply the most important industrial material in the world, and I’m firmly convinced that it will play an even more important role in the future.
I would even go so far as to say that the energy revolution would be impossible to achieve without steel.

Host Ute Neuhaus: In other words, when it comes to combating climate change, steel is both a problem and a problem solver? How does that make sense?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: It depends on your perspective. There’s no doubt that the production of steel generates a large amount of carbon emissions. And reducing these emissions is definitely a daunting task. But even today, this fascinating material with its truly outstanding properties is helping us reduce carbon emissions, both technologically and in many important forward-looking sectors that are crucial to the energy revolution. But also as a material for products that are better, lighter, more durable, and more economical thanks to high-tech steel, which is good for the overall carbon footprint.

Host Ute Neuhaus: You’re going to have to give us a few examples.

Dr. Matthias Gierse: For example, the world will be transitioning its transportation systems to electric power – this process is already in full swing here. And these battery-electric and hybrid systems require thin electrical steel strip. These thin electrical steel strips are used in efficient electric motors to power vehicles using electricity.
That is one example; another example is the generation of renewable energy via wind and hydroelectric power plants. These wind and hydroelectric power plants require generators to produce electricity. And these generators are also made of high-performance electrical steel strip.

Last but not least, you can certainly also mention fuel cells. Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity. But you can’t manufacture fuel cells without ultra-thin rolled stainless steel strip, which is used to make the bipolar plates that are found in these fuel cells.

Host Ute Neuhaus: I can tell that you possess a great deal of expertise, and you certainly need to be enthusiastic about it in order to implement all of this. But let’s take a step back for a moment – the steel industry is a source of carbon emissions, but at the same time, it’s playing a major role in the energy revolution and combating climate change. Isn’t that contradictory? How can these two conflicting aspects be reconciled? Dr. Buddenberg?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: What this shows is that we have to work on two aspects, along two different paths, in order to pursue our strategy. On the one hand, we’ll continue to work intensively on materials development in order to manufacture the products that are necessary for and beneficial to the energy revolution, and on the other hand, the entire steel industry must focus very closely on process development in order to make its processes carbon neutral. We are all bound by the Paris Agreement, with its goal of “zero emissions” by 2050, and we are committed to achieving this.

Host Ute Neuhaus: That’s an ambitious goal – is it even achievable? After all, the steel sector accounts for thirty percent of industrial emissions in Germany.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: The steel industry is undoubtedly facing an enormous challenge.  But it is rising to it. All European steel producers have now committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. The technologies exist, however the investments required will be quite substantial.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And the manufacturers of cold rolled steel? What is Waelzholz doing in this context?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: We have to gradually reduce our carbon emissions, and we are going to do so – across all levels of our value chain. We will procure green power and either use decarbonized fuels or generate the necessary process heat using renewable electricity as well.

Host Ute Neuhaus: That’s another point that I’d like to touch on – why is it so important to look at the value chain?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: Well, the products that we purchase and then process further already have a history, and this history is also expressed in the form of a carbon footprint. The steel products we use are produced from ores, from coal, from coke, using natural gas, using electricity, and the use of these energy sources and these raw materials generates carbon emissions. The same applies to our processes; our processes also generate carbon emissions, essentially through the use of electricity and natural gas, which can then also ultimately be attributed to the product, and in this respect, we have to look at the entire supply chain in order to calculate a product carbon footprint that, in the end, also needs to be transparently disclosed in the final product that we deliver to our customers.

Host Ute Neuhaus: This all sounds pretty complicated. So how do you sort out what’s from where and what’s what?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: If I may add to what Matthias Gierse said, when calculating carbon emissions, three different types of emissions known as “scopes” are used. Emissions from a company’s own primary energy use, such as natural gas or heating oil, are referred to as Scope 1. Second are the emissions from the use of converted primary energy sources, primarily electricity, known as Scope 2. And then you have Scope 3, which are emissions attributed to products that a company has purchased. At Waelzholz, these primarily include hot rolled strip, inert gases, and other services.

Host Ute Neuhaus: So a customer orders five tons of cold rolled steel strip and then you can say, this five tons of steel strip in grade XY and size Z have such and such a carbon footprint?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Exactly! This is also necessary because our customers, in turn, have to implement this information as their Scope 3. And across the value chain, this adds up to a carbon footprint all the way through to the final consumer product.

Host Ute Neuhaus: Well, I’ve certainly learned a lot about how to determine the carbon footprint, and I’ve also learned that it’s by no means a trivial task.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Indeed, the difficulty lies in rigorously documenting these three scopes and combining them across a complex factory structure. We’ve made it our mission to track this precisely and clearly, because this is the only way we can make the carbon footprint of our steel products transparent, from production to the coil delivered to our customers for further use as Scope 3.

Host Ute Neuhaus: Not quite so simple. I think I’ve already learned a lot about calculating the carbon footprint and that it’s not a trivial matter, but what is Waelzholz doing to actually reduce its carbon footprint, specifically at its own production facilities?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: We’ve drawn up a roadmap for this, a roadmap for reducing our carbon emissions. Over the long term, this roadmap also leads to the company Waelzholz as a whole and to its own production facilities becoming carbon neutral.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And what steps does this roadmap contain? How exactly are you aligning Waelzholz with sustainability?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: In terms of our own production processes, we have to consider Scope 1 and Scope 2, as Heino Buddenberg previously described. When it comes to Scope 2, which essentially relates to our electricity consumption, we already cover fifteen percent of our annual requirements with electricity generated from renewable sources, and by the end of 2022, we’ll meet forty percent of our electricity requirements with power from renewable sources. We’re going to continue increasing this percentage over the next few years, leading to carbon neutrality with respect to our electricity use by 2030 at the latest. Now when it comes to the use of natural gas, the situation is a bit more complicated – we could use hydrogen instead of natural gas, the burner technology required for this is already being tested in-house and the burners could easily be converted to use hydrogen, but currently hydrogen is simply not available in the significant quantities we require. In this respect, we are forced to continue using natural gas for the next few years.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: It might be worth adding that, in the case of electricity in particular, we aren’t becoming sustainable through offsetting measures such as planting trees in South America, but exclusively through qualified certificates of origin from renewable sources. Needless to say, our commitment to sustainability is also reflected in many small steps and individual innovations. Solar panels on the roofs of factory buildings are certainly a clearly visible example of this. Also LED lighting in the production halls, which consumes significantly less electricity than old light fixtures. The ultimate goal is to firmly entrench the idea of sustainability in our corporate culture through a wide range of measures, both large and small.

Dr. Matthias Gierse: It’s important to note that ninety percent of our carbon footprint is attributable to the use of raw materials. We can really only influence ten percent through our own actions, and in this respect, it is essential that steel production gradually becomes carbon neutral, because at the end of the day, this is the only way we can make our company’s footprint carbon neutral. It simply isn’t possible otherwise.

Host Ute Neuhaus: So, if I’m understanding you correctly, there are a few things you can do in your own production facilities, and you’re already doing them. But there are also requirements that lie outside the influence of Waelzholz or the cold rolling industry that have to be met for this strategy to work at all. What are these requirements?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: Indeed, the first thing we need to talk about in this context is a massive investment in the energy infrastructure. We simply need gigantic amounts of green power, and ultimately this renewable electricity will then be used to produce renewable hydrogen. And hydrogen is precisely the source of energy that is considered the key to green steel production.

Host Ute Neuhaus: Now Germany does have a national hydrogen strategy. And this is also tied to several billion euros in funding. Is this enough?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: Green steel production requires coal and coke to be replaced by green hydrogen. And this will necessitate technical modifications that require substantial, massive investments, including in the steel industry. We are increasingly faced with the problem that green hydrogen is currently not available at all on the required industrial scale, and the plant infrastructure for producing this hydrogen hasn’t even been built yet. Not to mention the quantities of renewable electricity required, which are also not currently available. So, at the present time, we have to say that green hydrogen is simply not available for purchase at commercially viable prices.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And what if it were available for purchase? How would it get where it needs to go? Would trucks then come and drop off hydrogen at Waelzholz and everything would be okay?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: No, that certainly wouldn’t work either. Currently, our supply of natural gas is delivered to us via pipeline systems, of course. Now you have to know that Waelzholz’s natural gas requirements at German sites alone stand at around 3,600 megawatt hours per day. If we wanted to meet this demand with tank trucks, then around 200 hydrogen trucks would have to make their way to Waelzholz’s sites every day to drop off their cargo. In other words, over the course of a 24-hour day, one truck delivering hydrogen every twenty minutes. Now that’s completely out of the question; it would be impossible to manage that logistically at all, let alone organize a fleet of trucks on that scale. That’s why we need a very clear vision from policymakers. We not only need to produce the hydrogen, but also to transport it via appropriate pipeline systems with connections to the industrial facilities. None of this will be possible without pipelines.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: We’re located in Hagen in Westphalia, which is a bit off the beaten track from the major chemical sites, and we don’t have the infrastructure in the form of pipelines that hydrogen could flow through. This is definitely an issue that policymakers need to address in order to ensure that the infrastructure is developed in key industrial regions – and Hagen is a key industrial region.

But when talking about a pipeline system, I’d like to take a step back and look at a somewhat broader picture, because a national hydrogen strategy won’t be sufficient to meet Germany’s extremely large energy needs. Even today, we still import most of our energy resources, and they do not come from Germany. This will also be the case with hydrogen. It won’t be enough to build wind turbines in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to satisfy Germany’s hunger for energy; we have to take a European view of this, both in terms of hydrogen production and transport, and North Africa will also have to be very heavily involved in this policy.

Host Ute Neuhaus: So, there’s a lot of work to be done, both nationally and internationally. We’re talking about billions of euros in investments – in new technologies, in the procurement of green hydrogen, in networks. This, of course, makes one thing abundantly clear – steel’s carbon neutrality is going to cost quite a bit of money. But who’s going to pay for all this? Us as taxpayers?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: At the end of the day, the citizens, the consumers, pay for everything, whether through taxes and social security contributions or through the prices of the goods and services they purchase, and no matter whether directly, indirectly, or diverted through EU coffers – at the end of the day, it’s the citizens, the German citizens, the European citizens, the global citizens who will have to pay.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And how do I, as a consumer, know what the right amount is, that I shouldn’t just accept whatever price increases come along under the guise of combating climate change?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: That’s exactly the point! We can’t just assume that costs incurred at one point will simply be passed along; instead we need to create a market for reducing carbon – reducing emissions. And then establish this carbon market across all stages of the value chain.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And how could this work? And what is Waelzholz’s approach to this issue?

Dr. Matthias Gierse: All participants, every part of these supply chain and value networks, will have to spend time accounting for their carbon emissions. In addition to documenting how much carbon is emitted, we also need to assess how much we can avoid emitting. After all, avoiding carbon emissions costs money, and, as Heino Buddenberg just said, that will have to be translated into a market price mechanism that ultimately assesses how much avoiding a ton of carbon in the manufacture of certain products is worth.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And what about Waelzholz? With respect to the value creation stage and value chains, what exactly is Waelzholz doing?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: We’re already very far along in this respect. As previously mentioned, we can now accurately measure, allocate, and assess the Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, and through our hot strip and energy purchasing performance, we can agglomerate the mitigation costs in our system and then pass them on to the customer. And it is precisely this transparency, creating this transparency, and actually avoiding carbon emissions, that is a service that we believe will be a key aspect of our business policy in the future.

Host Ute Neuhaus: So, if I can put it in a nutshell, I understand that Waelzholz also wants to play its part as an intermediary in this process, meaning as a link between the steel producer and Waelzholz’s customers. Is that true?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Of course! Our mission is to be the market and technology leader in our segment of the cold rolling industry, and we will play an active role in shaping the transformation of the steel industry towards climate neutrality. We will also use our market position and the economic importance of our industry to communicate and strengthen awareness of our needs. This is also necessary so that the decision-makers – in politics, public administration, government agencies, wherever, energy networks – understand the impact of their climate policy decisions on our industry and so that we can ultimately work together to ensure that the German steel industry is not only competitive, but that we even have a national industrial structure in the first place, namely the value network.

Host Ute Neuhaus: I’d like to touch on that once again – within the steel industry’s entire transformation process, if you look at all the different aspects, what role does Waelzholz play, what responsibility do you feel as a company with a long tradition in this industry and in this value network?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Well, sustainability, the word alone says that you plan to operate for a sustained period of time. That is to say, we are now over 190 years old and we’d like to be around in another 190 years. That’s what sustainability is all about.

We mentioned the Paris Agreement earlier – the target is set for 2050, and we will do everything we can to make Waelzholz and its products carbon neutral by implementing the necessary changes and thereby fulfilling the company’s responsibility. After all, it is also our duty as a company to ensure that we will still have a competitive steel industry tomorrow and that a functioning value network will also be in place to provide jobs for our children.

Host Ute Neuhaus: And does Waelzholz have a voice in this? What is it, what role can you play, what position can you take on? I’m also thinking a bit in terms of politics.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Every individual has a voice, every company has a voice, you just have to speak loud enough for others to hear.

Dr. Matthias Gierse: Indeed, and as a matter of fact, we put a great deal of effort into lobbying in the relevant bodies, which we have to do in order to move policy in the right direction. And you know, this is definitely an active process, it isn’t just waiting for things to happen.

[Theme song in background]

Host Ute Neuhaus: Well, Steel to Zero – the goal is truly ambitious. We learned that companies throughout the steel value network are facing major challenges, but are preparing themselves for the changes and are already working hard on the transformation. We also learned that steel is actually a powerful material that makes combating climate change possible in the first place. And one thing I took away from this conversation is that steel will only be carbon neutral by 2050 if the right policies are put in place. And if so, it won’t just make other products green, it will also be green itself.

Dr. Buddenberg, Dr. Gierse, I’d like to thank you very much for your time, for being my guests today, for allowing us to be here with you on site, and for making this extremely complex topic a little easier for us to understand.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Thank you, Mrs. Neuhaus. Happy Rolling!

Dr. Matthias Gierse: Many thanks to you and Glück auf!, as they say in the German steel industry.

[Outro]

Host Ute Neuhaus: Best of luck to you, too, dear listeners, and thank you for listening. Glad you could join us. There will be another episode of the Steel to Zero podcast series, and in it we take a look at how to manufacture green steel in the first place. We’ll be speaking with one of Germany’s most important steelmakers. So please stay tuned, and also subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss an episode.

Stay in the know with Steel to Zero, the sustainability podcast by Waelzholz. Listen now with just one click at waelzholz.com/steeltozero. And remember: Waelzholz with AE.

Episode 2 – Reducing the footprint: from low-carbon emissions steel to carbon neutrality

Producing around 11 tons of crude steel annually, thyssenkrupp Steel is the largest steelmaker in Germany and has a significant impact on the product carbon footprint due to its energy-intensive manufacturing processes. In this episode of the podcast, we examine, among other things, the processes that thyssenkrupp is already using today to reduce its carbon emissions, how crude steel production can become carbon neutral by 2045, and how Waelzholz is supporting this transformation process with a view to the entire value chain.

Guests:
Dr. Marie Jaroni (Head of Decarbonization & Sustainability at thyssenkrupp Steel)
Dr. Heino Buddenberg (CEO of C.D. Wälzholz GmbH & Co. KG)

Host:
Ute Neuhaus

Transcript of podcast episode 2

REDUCING THE FOOTPRINT: FROM LOW-CARBON EMISSIONS STEEL TO CARBON NEUTRALITY

[Theme song]

Ute Neuhaus: Steel to Zero – how steel will go green. The sustainability podcast by Waelzholz.

[Theme song]

Original speaker Ute Neuhaus: My name is Ute Neuhaus, and I’m the host of our German podcast series. In order to make it accessible to an international audience as well, we’ve had the conversations professionally dubbed by native English speakers.

[Theme song]

Ute Neuhaus: “Cooking steel” – this phrase has a long tradition, especially here in the Ruhr region of Germany. The same goes for coal, which has always been a key ingredient in industrial-scale steel production and is part of the formula. But this process, which is indeed tried and true, also means that steel manufacturers are major emitters of CO2. For every ton of steel produced, around two tons of CO2 are emitted. That’s a significant amount, and it’s also why the greatest potential in the steel value network lies with the steelmakers. Because they are the ones that can cut carbon emissions by the greatest amount. This means the most important task is changing the formulation. But what could a new formula look like that would make it possible to cook green steel in the future? What technologies would this require – and what environment? What’s already possible today and what’s the long-term goal? That’s what I want to talk about in the second episode of our Steel to Zero podcast.

[Theme song]

Ute Neuhaus: My name is Ute Neuhaus and I’d like to welcome my guests Dr. Marie Jaroni, Head of Decarbonization at thyssenkrupp Steel, who’s work, as her title suggests, focuses on precisely this topic...

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Hello Mrs. Neuhaus.

Ute Neuhaus: …and Dr. Heino Buddenberg, CEO of cold rolled steel manufacturer Waelzholz.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Hello Mrs. Neuhaus.

Ute Neuhaus: thyssenkrupp Steel is an important supplier of hot rolled steel strip to Waelzholz and a long-standing development partner.

Let’s begin with a few figures: Approximately two billion tons of crude steel are produced worldwide each year, of which around 150 million tons are produced in the EU. Accounting for almost 40 million tons of crude steel, Germany is the European Union’s largest steel producer. And this is also an interesting fact: In Germany, around 180 kilograms of steel are needed per person for private consumption each year. thyssenkrupp Steel Europe produces around eleven million tons of crude steel per year alone. Dr. Jaroni, Dr. Buddenberg, why is the demand for steel so staggeringly high?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Steel is the most widely used industrial material and plays an indispensable role in the German industrial sector, across the entire value chain. When we think about body panels for the automotive industry, about structural steel for buildings, about quite a number of applications – we need steel everywhere. This is due to steel’s inherent properties: it is very soft, is extremely malleable, can exhibit high degrees of tensile strength, and high levels of stability. All of this makes steel so exciting and important to our industry in Germany, and we are constantly conducting research to ensure that we develop ever better steel materials for our customers.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Yes, I completely agree. As a manufacturer of cold rolled steel strip and special steel solutions, Waelzholz relies on suppliers such as thyssenkrupp Steel so that it can purchase high-quality special steel materials and manufacture them for its customers in such a way that they meet their explicit, individual requirements. Our job is to develop steel strip solutions for individual applications. This wouldn’t be possible without the right hot rolled steel strip, suitable analyses, and steel formulations with high degrees of purity. It’s impossible to see the quality and sophistication of the processes employed by the hot strip supplier when driving past their blast furnace here in Duisburg. But they’re definitely there.

Dr. Marie Jaroni: If I could add to that – there are also quite a few applications that are important to the energy transition. In other words, it’s not just about the green steel that we produce, but also about where the steel actually goes and how it will help stop the climate catastrophe. Examples include wind turbines containing steel, motors for electric vehicles, and submarine cables that bring wind power to the mainland. There are many examples of where steel is needed in the climate debate. This is a huge market that is opening up – 15 million electric vehicles are expected to be on the road in Germany by 2030, for example, compared with only half a million today. We need renewable energy on a large scale, because 80 percent of our electricity is supposed to come from renewable sources by 2030. In other words, the demand for high-tech steel materials is enormous and will continue to grow.

Ute Neuhaus: But this also means that electric cars, wind power, all of this is necessary for, let’s say, the transformation and to achieve climate neutrality, but this means that even more steel will be needed, and that would also mean even more carbon emissions. We said at the beginning that one ton of crude steel generates two tons of carbon emissions. Dr. Jaroni, could you perhaps briefly explain to us why CO2 is actually emitted during the current steel production process at all?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Sure. Today, steel is primarily produced in a blast furnace process. In this blast furnace, iron ore – this is the feedstock, FeO if you express it chemically – is layered together with coking coal. Coking coal is essentially the C carrier, again expressed chemically, it’s the C. And this coal “steals” the oxygen from the FeO, the iron ore. So CO2 comes out of the top of the blast furnace, and these are the emissions that are generated by the process today. But we no longer want to conduct this process in a blast furnace in the future. This is because we can’t simply use hydrogen in a blast furnace, for example, but have to use a new process to reduce the FeO, i.e., the iron ore, but in this case using hydrogen, H, so that H2O comes out at the top, which most people are familiar with. This is simply steam and is completely harmless.

Ute Neuhaus: At the moment, green hydrogen is still a little way off. But if you look at the near future, steel is also recyclable. So isn’t there a good starting point for a circular economy somewhere in there? Couldn’t a solution be found in that regard?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Steel is an extremely recyclable material; 100 percent of steel is recycled today. In fact, there’s no other material where this works better than with steel. But our customers also have high standards of quality, and we can’t satisfy them with recycled materials alone. That’s why we also have to use fresh ore via the blast furnace process and produce what is known as primary metal, and that’s what we do here at thyssenkrupp. Nevertheless, we also try to use scrap as far as possible, for example in our converters and in our steel mills, so that we also have a high recycling rate of about 20 percent at our plant.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: I can only agree with Dr. Jaroni and point out that around 30 percent of global steel production is already made from scrap in electric arc furnaces, which reduces the CO2 output of this process route to a third of that of the blast furnace process. The scrap available worldwide, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of steel produced 30 or 40 years ago, is now consumed in large quantities for steel production. An additional reduction in carbon emissions by switching to scrap-based variants is therefore only relevant from a business point of view, but irrelevant from the perspective of the global carbon footprint, and doesn’t lead to any further reduction in carbon emissions in the overall processes. Furthermore, high-quality scrap is, of course, in short supply, so the aspect cited by Dr. Jaroni regarding the quality of the steel materials is relevant, but using more scrap won’t have any effect on the overall carbon footprint.

Ute Neuhaus: Okay, so the steel industry currently accounts for six percent of total carbon emissions in Germany. And 2.5 percent are emitted by thyssenkrupp Steel alone. So the need to take action is clear. thyssenkrupp aims to produce three million tons of carbon-neutral steel per year starting in 2030 and become completely climate neutral by 2045. But doesn’t something need to be done now, doesn’t something need to be done today?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: A lot is already being done at thyssenkrupp today, but also across the steel industry as a whole. Over the last 30 years, we’ve improved our processes so that we generate more than 20 percent fewer carbon emissions or even emissions in general than we did 30 years ago. And in this context, we’ve improved energy efficiency, we’ve improved the feedstocks, we’ve improved processes as a whole and, of course, we’ve also invested a significant amount in these new processes, but at some point you reach a limit to how much you can optimize the blast furnace route, and we have to start using new processes. And that’s what we’re doing now, and we’re starting by building a direct reduction plant here in Duisburg, because it’s simply no longer possible to optimize the current processes.

Ute Neuhaus: In other words, direct reduction is the name of the game in the future? Can Waelzholz say today: “But we’d like to have low-carbon emission material right now”?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Yes, very gladly even. Today we’ve already developed two such products produced via the blast furnace route: one is bluemint pure and the other is bluemint recycled, these are both steel materials with reduced carbon emissions. In the case of bluemint pure, we are already using HBI, biomethane, or hydrogen in the blast furnace today in order to improve the carbon footprint somewhat, and are therefore also offering a low-carbon emissions material. The entire system is certified, of course, in this case by DNV. In the case of bluemint recycled, we use steel scrap, special steel scrap. In both processes, we can cut emissions by almost 1.5 metric tons of CO2 per metric ton of steel or hot rolled strip – that’s 70 percent. So it’s already possible to make considerable progress here.

Ute Neuhaus: I’d like to jump in briefly, if I may – can you explain the term HBI, which not everyone listening might be familiar with?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Sure, HBI stands for hot-briquetted iron, a compacted form of direct reduced iron, also known as sponge iron, which is then still melted down in a blast furnace. But this means less coal has to be used, so less C “steals” the oxygen as explained before, and therefore we end up with less CO2.

Ute Neuhaus: And how much of it is available for purchase? How do you calculate it, especially since it’s applied to the footprint in this way?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: It’s true, we can only use a small amount of HBI. As I said, the blast furnace is also optimized in terms of energy efficiency, etc. We can still use more HBI or even biomethane and other materials, but only up to a maximum of ten percent, however. We can’t use much more, because we need the layers in the blast furnace, of the coking coal and the iron ore, for the process to work.

Ute Neuhaus: Now this is interesting, a new brand, a new brand environment – bluemint. And bluemint doesn’t offer increased tensile strength, or incredible tolerances, or a profile. Instead, it has a single feature – fewer carbon emissions. This is actually something of a first for steel manufacturers, selling something like this. How do you do that, how do you tell customers to please buy something that serves a social goal?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: It’s important to us to offer our customers products with reduced carbon emissions that are based on real and verifiable CO2 savings as quickly as possible. And our customers are asking for them, too. Because, in turn, our customers’ customers are asking for them. This is because society is changing and many people now realize that products with lower carbon emissions are also good products. That they meet a new requirement that may not have existed a few years ago, and we can see that there’s a demand for them.

Ute Neuhaus: Dr. Buddenberg, is this product characteristic also relevant to customers like Waelzholz?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: This feature is tremendously important and we’re depending on our partners to use innovative processes to minimize carbon emissions. At Waelzholz, we have an ambitious and comprehensive roadmap to cut carbon emissions ourselves, and are striving to achieve climate neutrality over the long term. However, 90 percent of the emissions from our products stem from the raw material, which in this example means from thyssen. And we can influence our own emissions. But we can only make our final product emission-free if the source of the raw material also does its part to ensure that this is the case. When it comes to steel, the factor that plays the key role in emissions is determined upstream at the beginning of the value chain.

Ute Neuhaus: So thyssenkrupp Steel, as the first stage in the value chain, bears a big responsibility on the road to green steel, doesn’t it?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: As you said earlier, thyssenkrupp accounts for 2.5 percent of Germany’s carbon emissions. And we’re working on it, we’re aware of our responsibility.

Ute Neuhaus: How then, Dr. Buddenberg, is Waelzholz, as the next stage in the value chain, helping drive the climate transition?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: You can’t look at this process of achieving carbon neutrality in isolation from the perspective of one company alone. We are part of value creation networks where we need to consider and achieve climate neutrality for the final products step by step at every level of production. Major investment decisions need to be made at every level to eliminate carbon emissions from the relevant processes. And the energy industry that supplies these networks must also play a massive role, and this must, of course, be recognized by policymakers and society at large. Because we also have a collective responsibility to create this product characteristic, namely that the product is, as I always say, “marketable.” After all, at the end of the day, costs that are incurred as a result can’t simply be borne by an individual company, but must be shared collectively via the value network and ultimately reach the end customer and, unfortunately, also be paid for there.

Ute Neuhaus: You mentioned policymakers earlier, and the energy industry. This means that there is an underlying framework and the framework conditions have to fit. But at the moment they don’t fit. What can be done to make it easier for companies to plan when it’s not yet clear what the framework conditions will look like?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: I don’t think you can plan for everything. This is a period of transformation. That’s clear to us as a company, and I think it’s clear to the entire industry that’s going through this transformation. You simply can’t plan for everything. You can try, together with policymakers, to ensure that the regulatory framework remains stable and , at least, to make plans within this framework. And ultimately, it isn’t politics that stands at the end of this entire transformation, but a business model that works for us. And works for our customers and our suppliers. And we need to work together to get there, through this entire period of transformation until this business model works, the market has to develop, and policymakers have to provide support as well. But our goal is always to return to a self-sufficient market that doesn’t need politics or subsidies, but in the end is also green and climate neutral.

Ute Neuhaus: But that means a market has to be created around carbon emissions?

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Exactly! At the end of the day, carbon emissions must represent a real cost for the end user. This cost must remain affordable, but it also has to be paid. And this additional cost must be enough to cover the gigantic investments involved in this transformation process. According to estimates, Germany alone will have to invest around three trillion euros to achieve a complete climate transition. And it goes without saying that the raw material industries and also steel will account for a commensurate share of this.

Ute Neuhaus: This means that we have to create an awareness of the costs associated with these things, and we’ve also heard that there are already opportunities today to offer products that at least were produced with fewer carbon emissions. If we now look ahead to 2045, what will it take for steel to truly go completely green in the end? What needs to happen?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: If you ask me, we’ll ultimately need to kick-start a small revolution. In the steel industry and also here at thyssenkrupp. What we’ll ultimately need to do is replace our coal-based blast furnaces, which have been in place for many, many years and decades, even centuries, with direct reduction plants. These direct reduction plants no longer work with coal, but instead with hydrogen. This means that we’ll need vast, massive quantities of green hydrogen. And we’ll need large amounts of green power here in Duisburg. These have to be available in the first place, and of course they have to ultimately be available at a competitive price. All of this means that we have to work on this in collaboration with our partners today. You can’t achieve this within the scope of the normal supplier-provider-customer relationship. Instead, we have to work with each other and think a little differently in this case, and that’s what we’re doing right now. With our customers, but also with our suppliers. This is necessary to ensure that we can procure the new feedstocks and then produce green steel here.

Ute Neuhaus: Now when it comes to direct reduction, companies have experience, I believe, with electric arc furnaces. What’s the situation with this at thyssenkrupp? After all, you actually use a completely different technology. Can you briefly explain what the differences are? What’s your idea?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: So we have a direct reduction plant. This is the initial basis for us to emit less CO2. The direct reduction plant produces sponge iron, a fully reduced iron, which then goes to our smelter. The smelter also has a reducing atmosphere and in the smelter the sponge iron is melted again, somewhat modified in terms of quality, and the pig iron then comes out of this smelter. The pig iron is actually exactly the same as when it came out of a blast furnace. So let’s just call this “pig iron 2.0.” And this pig iron 2.0 then follows exactly the same path as the pig iron from the blast furnace did before, namely it goes to the steel mill next and on to the further processing steps. This has tremendous advantages, because we can offer exactly the same levels of quality as we can today because the only change we’re making to our entire process is where the carbon emissions are actually generated. A total of 90 percent of today’s carbon emissions are generated in the blast furnace, and that’s exactly what we’re replacing with the direct reduction plant plus smelter. The rest of the process in the mill remains the same.

Ute Neuhaus: In other words, the established processes, the quality-controlled processes, will remain unchanged, and carbon emissions will simply be avoided at certain points in a micro-operation that’s not really a micro-operation at all?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Exactly.

Ute Neuhaus: Okay, so as you said earlier, collaborations play a key role, but beyond that, green hydrogen is a vital component. And it isn’t available yet. You mentioned that the first direct reduction plant is currently in the planning stage and should be completed by 2025. And yet green hydrogen still won’t be available. How do you plan to bridge the gap?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: So we’ll have the first direct reduction plant here in Duisburg in the mid-twenties. And for the time being, we will also be able to operate it using natural gas. How quickly we can then switch to green hydrogen is a question of availability. But we are in talks with numerous partners, our hydrogen partners, and, of course, we’re also partly dependent on pipelines. So we’re also in talks with pipeline network operator partners. Nevertheless, we also have partners that are located close to our plant, and this would make it possible to obtain a supply of green hydrogen sooner, since we would not need large pipeline connections to Rotterdam or other ports. So we have a variety of options available when it comes to obtaining hydrogen here, and so we also hope to be able to switch from natural gas to hydrogen-only operation very quickly.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: We just need to keep in mind that natural gas, which is what is used today, is essentially methane. And methane has one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. This means that when natural gas is used, it’s already a major step towards the hydrogen economy, which is something that is always quickly forgotten. And hydrogen will end up playing a key role in the transformation of the entire energy industry. We need to anticipate that electricity will serve as the primary energy source in the future. After all, renewable energy is electricity, and it doesn’t matter if it comes from wind or solar sources. And this hydrogen will also play an extremely important role in the conversion of electricity consumption as a buffer medium – because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. And this conversion of the entire energy system is going to keep us busy until 2045.

Ute Neuhaus: Natural gas as a stopgap technology. That seems difficult to imagine from today’s perspective, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the shortages in Europe. What impact does that have on the transformation, how do you view this at thyssenkrupp Steel?

Dr. Marie Jaroni: It obviously has an impact on us as well. First of all, in the short term, operationally. And if we look ahead to the transformation, then we are actually working with our hydrogen partners to try to answer the questions of how we can get hydrogen here to Duisburg more quickly and how we can use it more quickly so that we can minimize the amount of natural gas that we need and the length of time that we’ll need it. This is something we’re working on. But we always work with the philosophy that we won’t stop transforming simply because there’s a gas crisis, but instead will keep pressing forward. After all, climate change isn’t waiting – we have to keep going, and we are.

Ute Neuhaus: Okay, so I’ve read that by 2030, the steel industry will need up to 660,000 tons of green hydrogen. Then on top of that, the chemical industry will need some more, then private households will need some more... How will it be possible to achieve this necessary transformation at all? I mean, we’re talking about gigantic quantities that will be required.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: The German government plans to produce just over 400,000 tons of hydrogen in Germany by 2030. But we have to get away from the idea that the future hydrogen economy will remain purely a domestic affair. We’ll be part of an international energy market, just as we are today. And Dr. Jaroni just mentioned the connection to the Port of Rotterdam, which has established itself as a major hub for imported energy commodities and will also be the hub for imported hydrogen sources in the future. Whether that will be hydrogen via pipeline networks from North Africa, or whether that will be hydrogen sources coming from Australia via the vehicle ammonia, only time will tell. This all needs to be developed. And this is necessary within the energy network to ultimately set the future course.

Ute Neuhaus: You just said it, the key word here is once again “networks.” Dr. Jaroni, you mentioned partnerships, and if you take this idea a step further and think about what the whole thing could look like from 2045 onward, these will certainly go far beyond national partnerships.

So we’ve learned that the steel of the future will be produced with green hydrogen. And this requires hydrogen technologies, which in turn are also emission-free, and innovative production processes, such as the direct reduction process, and these are all absolutely essential if the transformation of the steel industry is to be successful at all.

I’d like to thank my two guests, Dr. Jaroni and Dr. Buddenberg, very much for their time and for these extremely interesting insights into the future of green steel.

Dr. Marie Jaroni: Thank you very much, Mrs. Neuhaus, thank you very much, Mr. Buddenberg. This was a really interesting conversation and I look forward to hopefully speaking with you again in the future.

Dr. Heino Buddenberg: Yes, sincere thanks to both of you from my side as well. I enjoyed it.

Ute Neuhaus: And I’d also like to thank you, dear listeners, for your interest, and I’m very glad you were able to join us.

Today we looked at the transformation of steel production. In our next episode of the Steel to Zero podcast series, we’ll be taking a look at how important green steel is for carbon neutrality at the other end of the value chain. And we’ll be speaking with a company that has been systematically focusing on sustainability for more than 100 years.

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Ute Neuhaus: Stay in the know with Steel to Zero, the sustainability podcast by Waelzholz. Listen now with just one click at waelzholz.com/steeltozero. And remember: Waelzholz with AE.

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