The lack of sufficient energy supply and capital means steel industry decarbonisation is likely to take some time and coke will remain a necessary reductant in steelmaking. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) can significantly reduce blast furnace emissions but comes with limitations. So said panellists at last week’s European Economic Congress in Katowice.

Asked if hydrogen can replace coke in blast furnaces, Polish Steel Association (HIPH) chief executive Mirosław Motyka said 1 tonne of hydrogen used saves 28t of CO2. However, hydrogen electrolysis requires vast amounts of energy, while it has been found that using hydrogen in a BF results in higher energy demand, therefore, paradoxically, requiring more coke. Syngas injection meanwhile reduces BF emissions only by up to 15%.

Having exhausted all blast furnace CO2 reduction possibilities, therefore, the “only solution is CCUS”, Motyka said at the event attended by Kallanish. Although capturing the CO2 is not an issue, the question is how to then use it. Some, like ArcelorMittal Gent, are using it for chemicals/fuels production, while re-injection is also possible but does not occur in Europe so far, Motyka pointed out. In any case, CCUS is also very energy-intensive.

ArcelorMittal Poland chief executive Wojciech Koszuta highlighted the firm’s recent investments in its BF-based production route but conceded that decarbonisation will influence its production process in the medium term. “We are investing even in those lines that we know in a few years will reduce their output,” he observed.

CCUS is not yet commercially adapted to requirements, he said, adding: “The question is … will this [CCUS] capability be attractive enough from an economic standpoint to see it widely adopted?”

Marek Serafin, chief executive of Polish coke producer Koksownia Czestochowa Nowa, proclaimed coke demand is safe for the time being as no competitive alternative to the BF/BOF route will appear in at least the next decade. Moreover, since the pandemic and Ukraine war, access to capital needed for investments into decarbonisation and defence has become more limited.

Jastrzebska Spolka Weglowa (JSW) commercial director Jolanta Gruszka pointed out that many of the alternative ironmaking technologies are still in the pilot stage and will take time to roll out, meaning coal will remain important. Moreover, even EAFs depend on a form of coke, petroleum coke, which is produced from oil and used as the raw material for graphite electrode production, she added.

JSW meanwhile plans to sign the Antwerp Declaration, which aims to stop industry migrating outside the EU. However, it is disappointing coking coal is classified only as a critical rather than a strategic raw material, which would afford it additional protection, Gruszka added.

Motyka appealed to Polish government representatives to fight for the conclusion of the Global Arrangement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminium (GASSA), and to ensure ETS and CBAM revenue is used to fund steelmaking decarbonisation.

Przemyslaw Sztuczkowski, ceo of Polish steelmaker Cognor, bemoaned the EU’s approach to ensuring industry’s global competitiveness but also competition within the EU itself. He gave the example of rebar that was transported from Italy to Poland by train last year, a journey that would usually make the product uncompetitive. However, on this occasion, the Italian government compensated the costs using funding from an EU programme, he explained, bemused.