North American ferrous and nonferrous metal
producers-individually and on a collaborative basis-have made
concerted efforts to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and are
looking to continue doing so. The answer to whether these
efforts are paying off might well be rooted in how you define
In terms of actual emissions, the steps taken so far do seem
to be effective. A spokeswoman for ArcelorMittal SA, for
example, points to two reports one from the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) showing that domestic steel industry
emissions declined 67 percent between 1995 and 2006, the other
from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) boasting that
the industry has sliced energy intensity (energy per ton
shipped) by 33 percent since 1990. Lower energy intensity
translates into lower GHG emissions.
ArcelorMittal recently set its own carbon reduction target,
aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (the major GHG
produced in steelmaking) by 8 percent worldwide by 2020 from a
2007 baseline, the spokeswoman said.
Like their neighbors to the south, Canadian steelmakers also
have made significant strides, curtailing their GHG emissions
by about 20 percent since 1990, according to Robert Schutzman,
chairman of the environment and energy committee of the
Canadian Steel Producers Association and director of
environmental affairs and trade for the Canadian operations of
Evraz Inc. North America.
In the nonferrous metals arena, the North American aluminum
industry also has slashed its GHG emissions dramatically, as
evidenced by the achievements of two of its largest
Nigel Steward, Rio Tinto Alcan's vice president of
technology and equipment sales and services, said the
Montreal-based company has cut its GHG emissions by 54 percent
while lifting production 42 percent. Likewise, an Alcoa Inc.
spokesman said the Pittsburgh-based company has reduced its GHG
emissions by 36 percent while more than doubling output.
Michel Lalonde, Rio Tinto Alcan's director of climate
change, said that the International Aluminium Institute (IAI)
goal to reduce global perfluorocarbon (PFC) emissions by 80
percent by 2010 has already been met. The IAI is now seeking to
trim PFC emissions-one of the major GHGs emitted during the
aluminum production process-another 10 percent worldwide by
Concerns continue to mount, however, that the moves being
taken by North American producers-and actions that are likely
to be mandated to meet legislative targets proposed in both the
United States and Canada-are more ambitious and costly than
what is being undertaken in other parts of the world. And the
difference could affect North American producers' global
"Gerdau Ameristeel (Corp.) is very concerned about climate
change and has invested heavily in the available technology,"
John Skelley, the company's corporate environmental affairs
manager, said. "We understand the need to operate as
efficiently as possible and .?.?. support the concept of
minimizing GHG emissions as long as there is a level global
playing field and our competitiveness is not weakened."
Chris Kristock, vice president of quality and product
development at Severstal North America Inc., agreed. "North
American manufacturing dominance is being threatened by U.S.
and regional restrictions that aren't imposed globally, while
there is only one atmosphere globally," he warned. "There is a
lot at stake."
Some of the advances made by domestic mills are rooted in a
shift in the mix of the industry's overall technology base,
with an increase in mini-mills (consuming mainly recycled
steel) vs. integrated producers, according to Schutzman. But
the emissions reduction also has been achieved by enhancements
in furnace technology, including the addition of more computer
controls and the use of more efficient burners.
Improvements have been marked off by meticulously tracking
and refining steelmaking practices and procedures and
identifying areas of waste, Kristock said, noting that
Severstal NA, for one, has been pursuing a "zero-basis budget
methodology" to make changes resulting in the use of "as little
energy as conceivably possible."
Much of the improvement notched by the aluminum industry has
been technologybased, according to Rio Tinto Alcan, which cited
the introduction of its AP smelting technology as an example.
Steward said that the approach allows the production of
aluminum with very low GHG emissions, low energy consumption
and a low anode effect, which translates into low PFC
emissions. To date, 6.5 million tonnes of AP smelter technology
has been installed worldwide, with another 900,000 tonnes in
the project phase and 100,000 tonnes in discussion, he
In general, the progress made is a result of continuous
improvement, the Alcoa spokesman said. Without being specific,
he said his company has made "significant investments to make
our smelters more efficient and to increase our yields" and
plans to continue doing so to further reduce emissions.
Given all that has already been achieved, can GHG emissions
be further reduced? "Very little improvement is possible
without a major step change in technology," Skelley said.
The ArcelorMittal spokeswoman agreed. "Absent breakthrough
technologies, this rate of carbon (and other GHG) emissions
will soon reach a plateau due to the physical limits of the
integrated steelmaking process," she said.
Several breakthroughs, including two carbon-free steelmaking
technologies and inert anode smelter technology on the aluminum
side, are being researched, although she said that "a
commercially viable integrated steel technology to achieve the
long-term reductions contemplated by policymakers has yet to be
developed or demonstrated."
The closest would probably be those being researched by the
AISI/Energy Department Carbon Dioxide Breakthrough Program. But
even if successful, those technologies likely won't be
available for "mass market" commercialization for another 15 to
20 years, Kristock predicted.
One hurdle to the emergence of breakthrough technologies,
especially in Canada, has been government support of research
and development (R&D) work, Schutzman said. "The government
is looking to cut out the 'R' and keep the 'D'," he said. "The
government doesn't want to support losers. But the problem with
that is you don't have a winner with every research
Even so, the metals industry has learned enough from the
research being conducted to make incremental improvements until
breakthrough technologies can be implemented, Kristock said.
One such opportunity has been the ability to take advantage of
latent heat from steelmaking operations, or hot charging.
The AISI's Committee on Manufacturing Technology also is
continuing to investigate carbon capture, or sequestration,
methods, he added. "There are technologies out there, but the
ones we've looked at so far are not suited for a large-scale
operation, such as steelmaking."
Both the steel and aluminum industries also are viewing
their metals as a partial solution for their customers' GHG
emission problems. The use of high-strength steel and light
metals such as aluminum in transportation applications could
decrease emissions significantly.
Steward noted that when a ton of aluminum is used to replace
a heavier material in a car it could slice GHG emissions by 20
tons over the lifetime of the vehicle.