Ember works to accelerate the coal phase-out for electricity generation. As the UK reaches the end of its coal power phase-out journey, we’ve mapped a key remaining sector where coal is still used: iron & steel production.
However, there are exciting opportunities for the sector to become coal-free, and significant demand from the rapid growth in wind power and electric vehicles, to name two sectors heavily reliant on steel.
Ember’s analysis shows that more than three quarters of industrial coal use currently happens in the iron and steelmaking sector. Cutting coal use in primary iron and steel production is challenging since low or zero-carbon steelmaking technologies are not yet mature, the market for zero-carbon steel is unproven, and appetite for new investment in steelmaking remains weak in the UK and Europe due to chronic overcapacity in the sector.
Wilf Lytton Industrial Policy Advisor, EmberOn the surface, electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking appears to be far less emissions-intensive than blast furnace production with coal. However, UK steelmakers cannot rely on steel recycled via EAFs alone to meet demand for low-carbon steel in domestic markets and beyond. Primary steel is still essential, and the UK needs to invest in decarbonised processes, based either on hydrogen or CCS, or a combination of those technologies.
Overview of UK steelmaking
Presentation on decarbonising UK steel
New approach required
Steel is integral to modern economies and demand for steel products is expected to grow over the coming decades.
There is, however, pressure on steelmakers to cut emissions to help meet the UK’s target of net-zero economy-wide emissions by 2050.
Policies enacted to achieve that goal have had little effect so far and a clearer vision and focus from government regarding industrial policy will be needed if the UK’s steel industry is to prosper.