Tata Steel on course toward sustainable steel production


Tata Steel in IJmuiden has great ambitions to substantially reduce its carbon footprint. It’s a huge challenge but Tata Steel is happy to take it on, says Gerard Jägers, Programme Manager Energy Efficiency at Tata Steel IJmuiden. ‘This is more than ambition, this is an absolute necessity.’

Tata Steel purchases hundreds of millions of cubic metres of natural gas, enough to heat an average of 250,000 homes. That’s certainly not insignificant but it’s only a small part of the total energy needs of Tata Steel. The remainder of the production process runs on its own production gases and coal.

Why is energy transition so important to Tata Steel?

 ‘Like other steel companies, we mainly use coal and iron ore as raw material. Here, carbon is mainly used to reduce the iron oxide in the ore to iron. There’s no other good alternative available as a reductor. As a result of that and because of our scale, we have a large carbon footprint. Tata Steel wishes to take its responsibility to reduce this. If Tata Steel succeeds in its ambitions, this in turn will help the government meet its climate targets and at the same time we also hope to save costs in due course.’

2050 is still far away. Have you set yourself interim targets?

‘There are a few possibilities for us. Firstly, there are energy savings which we achieve year on year. We agree the interim targets with the government in energy agreements. In addition to this, we have a one-on-one agreement with the Minster for Economic Affairs to achieve a major extra step in energy saving by 2020. We also have on-going projects involving solar panels, wind turbines and residual heat in progress. The big development is HIsarna. We are investigating whether that technique could eventually become the guiding principle.’

Tell us more about HIsarna.

‘HIsarna is an alternative technology for making molten pig iron. In the future, provided the technology is developed successfully, steel can be made with a minimum of 20% less CO2 emissions and 20% lower energy use. We have built a pilot plant in IJmuiden. Whether this will be the final solution, I don’t know. In addition to the environmental impact, other important issues also play a role: the iron needs to be of good quality and attract the right price. HIsarna is a European project and if it works then it might be used throughout the world.’

Why is HIsarna so environmentally friendly?

‘With HIsarna we don’t need to pre-process the raw materials, iron ore and metallurgical coal; they are inserted directly into HIsarna’s reactor vessel. This saves one step in the process. The HIsarna installation is fed with pure oxygen which means less nitrogen is released and a lot of relatively pure CO2. This pure CO2 is in turn suitable for storage. Nearly 80% of CO2 emissions can be avoided by storage in depleted gas fields, for example.’

But you still use coal...which is the most harmful energy source for the climate. Much more than natural gas, for example.

‘We do use coal in the new reactor, but more in the role of reductor rather than energy carrier. But the reactor in HIsarna is more flexible than traditional furnaces as regards fuel. In due course it’s even conceivable that we’ll be producing steel here using biomass.'

What else is Tata Steel busy with?

‘There are a number of permanent energy savings projects at Tata. We would also like to supply others with our surplus heat. A large number of households in Amsterdam, Purmerend and Almere have already been connected to one heat network. Ultimately, all these different areas will be connected to one heat network for a large region, from IJmuiden to Almere and from Zaanstad to Aalsmeer. But for the time being, we are in the study phase as to how we can contribute. But it’s not without obligation, because we’ve made agreements with the province and other parties about this.’

Looking at your scale, will Tata become a major supplier of heat?

‘We can make a major contribution to our surroundings with our surplus heat but less than we initially thought. The new hot strip furnace which we would like to build is more efficient and will therefore have less residual heat. That’s a disappointment for the residual heat project but beneficial for the climate targets.’

GasTerra supports industrial clients in solving energy issues using the Environmental Plan for Industry [Milieuplan Industrie]. Is that an idea for Tata Steel?

‘It is an interesting option but we are pretty familiar with what is going on in this field. We know our consumption figures and we’re able to analyse these well. We monitor with high frequency and often discuss the figures with our plants in order to monitor progress in energy savings and to implement the Energy Efficiency Plan. That’s the basis of our work. We’re supposed to know what the possibilities are and their costs and benefits. But we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom, of course. Good suggestions are always welcome.’