Steelmakers’ carbon emissions study template suits cement counterparts

By Don Marsh

A new study, “SMA/CRU Emissions Analysis,” concludes that the output of Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA) members—electric arc furnace (EAF) operators in the U.S.—has a carbon intensity approximately 75 percent lower than that of peers running traditional blast furnaces. The EAF process underpins nearly 100 percent of concrete reinforcing steel and 70 percent of overall tonnage milled in the U.S. Blast furnaces shoulder the remainder of domestic output, but 70 percent of steel produced the world over. 

Global data distortions hamper efforts of domestic steel producers, along with their portland cement counterparts, to convey the truth about their limited greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory contributions in the context of developed versus developing economies. Steel and cement production accounted for about 37.7 million and 40.7 million tons, respectively, of carbon dioxide emissions logged in the Environmental Protection Agency 2020 Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The categories combined represented about 48 percent of the CO2 emissions in the program’s Industrial Processes and Product Use chapter. At 163.7 million tons, the chapter tally is almost a rounding error in the EPA 2020 GHG Inventory’s 4.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions—steel and cement production contributing 0.008 percent and 0.0087 percent of that volume. Compare those miniscule figures with the ubiquitous, oversimplified metrics climate observers attach to production of steel and cement, respectively tagged with 8 percent and 7 percent of global GHG emissions. 

SMA/CRU Emissions Analysis primarily examines the domestic steel carbon load, contrasting Scope 1 (producers’ direct process), Scope 2 (process energy) and Scope 3 (supplier) emissions factors in EAF and blast furnace operations. Metric clarity and granularity support the Association’s portrayal of the study as a “a new milestone in objectivity, accuracy, and comprehensiveness of measurement for [members’] GHG emissions.”

“Something that can’t be measured can’t be managed,” says SFA President Philip Bell. “Using an established, proven process, EAF producers are making steel at far lower carbon-intensity levels than traditional steelmakers around the globe. There is a lot of inaccurate and misleading information about steelmaking, and we believe this independent study will help further our efforts to achieve a low carbon future.”

“The domestic EAF industry’s past 50 years of investment in low-carbon, energy efficient capacity is lost in the maelstrom surrounding worldwide iron and steel production carbon dioxide emissions,” adds SFA Vice President of Sustainability Eric Stuart. 

London-based CRU Group, a business intelligence consultant with North American headquarters near Pittsburgh, compiled Emissions Analysis figures from November 2021 to June 2022. Researchers probed a majority of the world’s steelmaking companies and industry sources; surveyed various producers through anonymous methods; synthesized data from a multitude of private, industry, and government resources; and, adhered to practices of the United Nations-aligned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

“The steelmaking industry has long faced the challenge of being incorrectly perceived as one that relies on antiquated, inefficient, and highly polluting processes,” observes SMA Chairman Mark Millett, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ft. Wayne, Ind.-based Steel Dynamics. “This new study, long overdue, raises the bar for the way we validate progress.”

Emissions Analysis, adds CRU North America President John Ball, “Will have a genuine impact on sustainability in the steel industry. SMA allow[ed] us to research, collect, and analyze data from a wide range of steelmakers to produce the most accurate and comprehensive report possible. Our partnership serves as a model for the way that similar industry organizations can strengthen the integrity of their data by joining forces with a trusted partner.”

SMA/CRU study methodologies could inform a parallel exercise in U.S. portland cement production, where carbon intensity per ton of output has swooned thanks to three decades of capacity and environmental management outlays.

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