How India’s Steel Sector Is Going To Disrupt Its Climate Goals In A Big Way

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This is an era of climate emergency. According to the recent Emissions Gap Report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), even if all the current commitments under the Paris Agreement are met, the average global temperature would rise by 3.2°C from pre-industrial levels.

The TERI report elaborates on the strategies for decarbonising the steel sector and ultimately making it zero-emissions.

This is indeed, much higher than our target, to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5°C, by the end of this century. This comes in the backdrop of an emotive clarion call by one of the youngest climate activists, Greta Thunberg. She admonished world leaders for failing to act towards the impending crisis and warned that this generation will never forgive them.

At this opportune time, The Energy And Research Institute, TERI has come up with a report titled “Towards a Low Carbon Steel Sector: Overview of the Changing Market, Technology and Policy Context for Indian Steel”. It gives a comprehensive overview of the present greenhouse gas emissions from the steel sector in India, and the projections of Co2 emissions from the sector by 2050.

Further, the report elaborates on the strategies for decarbonising the steel sector and ultimately making it zero-emissions.

As of 2020, the steel sector emits 242 Mt CO2 per year. This constitutes nearly 35% of India’s total emissions from fossil fuel combustion and Industry.

The report projects a steep increase in Co2 emissions, which would more than triple by 2050. In the baseline scenario, the sector would emit nearly 837 Mt CO2 per year, by 2050.

In case of a high growth scenario, where the Indian economy grows on the backbone of the high carbon-intensive manufacturing sector, the emissions can be much more. This is a matter of concern as it deviates India from its INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) targets of the Paris Agreement.

The targets include a commitment to reduce its emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level. Moreover, India being the 4th highest contributor to CO2 emissions ( 7% of global emissions) has an added responsibility of saving the world from the impending climate crisis.

What Needs To Be Done To Decarbonise The Steel Sector In India?

A second lever to decarbonise (and ultimately move towards zero emissions) the steel sector is through the use of green hydrogen.

A three-pronged approach is needed to move towards a low carbon steel sector by 2050. Firstly, it is imperative to improve the energy and resource efficiency of the steel sector. The sector in India is highly energy-intensive, as per the global standards.

It includes older and inefficient blast furnace units, along with reliance on coal-based direct reduction. At the plant level, if the globally accepted energy efficiency measure is adopted, the GHG emissions could reduce by nearly 30%.

Moreover, there is a need to increase the usage of scrap steel whose production is 85% less carbon-intensive than primary ones.

A second lever to decarbonise (and ultimately move towards zero emissions) the steel sector is through the use of green hydrogen. Presently, the vast majority of hydrogen across the world is produced from Natural Gas, through a process called Steam Methane Reforming (SMR).

This process releases a huge amount of CO2, and the Hydrogen produced is called brown or grey Hydrogen. Recent breakthroughs in the technology have suggested that Hydrogen can be produced from electrolysis of water, and if the electricity is produced from a renewable source, no GHG emissions take place.

The hydrogen, thus produced, is called Green Hydrogen. This, when used in the steel sector, can reduce emissions by more than 90%.

Thirdly, it is important to focus on Research and Development (R&D) for decarbonisation of the steel sector in the country. The R&D focus, along with international collaborations, will help India move towards zero emissions steel sector in a fast way. Indian companies, like Tata Steel, have the required expertise to decarbonise this sector.

India is standing at the cusp of a climate emergency. It is paramount for India to take a leadership role in averting the looming catastrophe on humankind. As it has always believed in the philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’( the world is one), the world and especially the young generation is looking towards India.

The report for the decarbonising steel sector lays out a clear roadmap for India to follow. By implementing this, in true letter and spirit, would make India a messenger of hope for the world.

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