Extraction of molten iron from Boston Metal’s pilot-scale facility in Woburn, Massachusetts.
Photo courtesy Boston Metal
The $1.6 trillion steel industry is the backbone of the modern world. It is also a major contributor to global warming, accounting for his 7% to 9% of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Steel Association.
As a result, large global companies such as international steel giant ArcelorMittal and technology heavyweights microsoftinvests in Boston Metal, which spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and developed a new method of producing clean steel.
Boston Metals CEO Tadeu Carneiro told CNBC in a video call Wednesday: So when it comes to decarbonizing industries to combat climate change, “It’s a big piece of the puzzle. I don’t think this is obvious to everyone,” Carneiro said.
In 2013, MIT Professors Donald Sudway and Antoine Aranois published a paper in the journal Nature containing experimental results proving that steel can be produced without emitting carbon dioxide. That same year, they started a company called Boston Electrometallurgical Corp. to expand and commercialize the technology.
In 2017, Carneiro joined the company as CEO. He is a 40-year veteran of the steel industry, working primarily for Brazilian metal giant CBMM. In 2018, Boston Metal raised its first funding round of $20 million in a round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate investment firm founded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
For years, Gates has stressed the need to think about decarbonizing the manufacturing sector. According to Gates’ book How to Avoid Climate Disasters, transportation gets a lot of attention, but it accounts for only 16% of his global emissions, while manufacturing produces 31% of his. increase.
“Whenever I hear ideas about what we can do to curb global warming, whether it’s at a conference table or a cheeseburger, I always ask this question: ‘What are your steel plans? What?” Gates wrote on his own blog in 2019.
On Friday, Boston Metal announced it had raised $120 million in a Series C round led by multinational steel giant ArcelorMittal, as well as funding from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund.
The funding will allow Boston Metal to increase green steel production at its pilot facility in Woburn, Massachusetts, and to help build its Brazilian subsidiary, Boston Metal do Brasil, where it will manufacture a variety of metals. Carneiro told CNBC that he plans to begin construction on a demonstration steel plant in 2024 and a commercial-scale plant in 2026.
Boston metal team.
Photo courtesy Boston Metal
ArcelorMittal carbon cost
According to Irina Gorbounova, vice president of ArcelorMittal and head of the XCarb Innovation Fund, for ArcelorMittal, producing steel without greenhouse gas emissions is not only a responsibility, but a business imperative. .
“Our customers want it, our investors expect us to transition, our employees—and future employees—are not part of the global climate agenda. I would like to work for a company that is part of the solution.
“Increasingly, we are also looking at the cost of carbon,” Gorbonova told CNBC. In Europe, the emissions trading system (ETS) already puts a price on carbon emissions, Gorbounova told CNBC.
“While the EU is at the forefront of climate policy, it is natural to expect other regions to follow suit, so we also have a business case for decarbonisation,” Gorbounova told CNBC. “Zero or near-zero carbon steel will become a reality. The only question is how quickly we can make that journey. will not be able to withstand
Ironically, steel is a key building block in many technologies being built for decarbonisation, such as wind power and electric vehicles, Gorbounova said.
Microsoft doesn’t make cars or make steel, but it does have unique goals, like being carbon negative by 2030 and removing all of the company’s past carbon footprint since its founding in 1975. is on track to meet its aggressive climate goals.
Boston Metal CEO Tadeu Carneiro led the MIT spinout after decades in the steel industry.
Photo courtesy Boston Metal
How does Boston Metal do it?
Traditionally, the first step in steel production is to mix iron ore or iron oxide mined from the ground with coal in a very hot blast furnace. That process emits a significant amount of CO2.
Scrap recycling is also an important part of the global industry, accounting for 30% of steel production (versus 70% in the US) and having a “much smaller” carbon footprint, says Carneiro.
Boston Metal’s technology, molten oxide electrolysis, conducts electricity through iron oxide mixed with what Carneiro calls “a soup of other oxides,” producing iron and oxygen. Oxides are compounds containing at least one oxygen atom, and Boston’s process includes common oxides such as alumina, silica, calcium, and magnesium.
“There is no carbon involved,” says Carneiro, in the process of making iron this way.
However, it takes a lot of electrical energy to heat this soup to the required 1,600 degrees Celsius. Producing one million tonnes of steel per year requires 500 megawatts of baseload clean electricity, about half the electricity needed to power a medium-sized city. “The availability of power will determine how quickly the process will be implemented,” Carneiro said.
Electricity must also be clean. Otherwise the whole purpose is defeated.
“In the future, we believe we will have abundant, reliable, green and cheap electricity to produce green steel using this process,” said Carniero.
Other processes that use hydrogen to make clean steel have been developed, but they require very pure iron oxide, suitable for only about 4% of the iron ore that is commercialized, Carniero said. said.
Boston Metal will eventually license its technology to steel companies, not steelmakers.
“All the steel companies are in touch with us to understand our progress and when we will be commercial,” Carneiro told CNBC. and they don’t really have a solution right now, so they really need a large-scale solution and our technology It’s the only one that can scale up to billions of tons of capacity.”