steel electric arc furnace

Mapping coal use in the UK steel sector

Ember’s UK Steel Database reveals what it is needed to take steel from coal to clean.

Phil MacDonald

Chief Operating Officer

25 December 2020 | 12 min read

Executive summary

Coal-free steel

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.

The context

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.

On 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.

Wilf Lytton Industrial Policy Advisor, Ember

Overview

Overview of UK steelmaking

Presentation on decarbonising UK steel

View slide pack

These slides provide an overview of steelmaking in the UK, including information on:

  • UK plants
  • Energy use
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Employment
  • Recent investments at Port Talbot and Scunthorpe

In-depth mapping

Understanding the UK steel sector

Map of UK steel producers and processors and database of the UK steel sector.

Conclusion

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.