Steel is still the most important engineering material, with a yearly production of around 1,7 billion tonnes. Unfortunately, the process to produce steel starting from iron ore is heavily polluting the atmosphere. Both CO and CO2 are produced, with the first one often burned to produce CO2 as well. When you do the math, you find that for each ton of steel, roughly two tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted. The contribution of the steel industry to the global CO2 emissions is estimated to be around 5%.
Reason enough to investigate the possibilty of reducing the footprint, thought bioengineering company LanzaTech. They developed the Clostridium microbe based on rabbit gut microbes, to capture carbon monoxide and converting it to ethanol. “What we are talking about is turning an environmental liability into a financial opportunity,” said Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive of LanzaTech. The ethanol can be used to fuel cars and airplanes. ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steel producer, is about to start a pilot project in their production faciliy in Ghent, Belgium to test out the technology. When completed in 2018, the facility will produce up to 47 000 tonnes of ethanol. It’s estimated that for every ton of ethanol, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 2.3 tonnes. When the conversion process proves to be economiccaly viable, the company will roll out the technology in all her facilities over the world.
If ArcelorMittal’s pilot project to turn CO into bio-ethanol turns out to be economically viable, the company will apply the technology in all its steel production plants, such as this one in Bremen (photo: JesterRaiin)