The price of steel

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As I write this, no coal is being used in a UK power station to generate electricity, and it has been this way for a while now.  Indeed, zero-coal records have been set, and if plans come to fruition, the UK's last coal-fired power plant will shut by 2025.  Few will mourn; see this for an overview of how energy use has changed recently, and this for some coal-use stats for 2017 / 2018.

This is unlikely to end coal use in the UK as it is needed for steel making, brick production, cement manufacture and other heavy industries.  An article in The Times recently argued that coal demand by UK industry will remain around five million tonnes a year – unless, that is, we find a way of making steel without the use of coking coal which would probably need a miracle of alchemy rather than chemistry.

Blast furnaces need 0.77 tonnes of coking coal to make 1 tonne of crude steel [*] and around 250 tonnes of steel are needed for one offshore wind turbine, and there are many other low-carbon technologies that need steel – for example, electric cars.

The Times article asked: shall we mine our own coal (we have plenty of it) or import it (it might be cheaper unless you count the externalities).  The same question arises for steel especially today with existential questions hovering over British Steel.  Shall we just let other countries do all the dirty stuff, reap the carbon reduction benefits, and then tell everyone how good we are?


[*] See this for details of steel-making, including the use of coal.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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