Report - Global Efficiency Intelligence

How Clean is the U.S. Steel Industry? An International Benchmarking of Energy and CO2 Intensities

| November 2019


The iron and steel industry accounts for around a quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the global industrial sector. Global steel production has more than doubled between 2000 and 2018. China accounted for 51 percent of global steel production in 2018. The energy use and GHG emissions of the steel industry is likely to continue increasing because the increased demand for steel, particularly in developing countries, is outpacing the incremental decreases in energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions intensity of steel production that are happening under the current policy and technology regime.

International benchmarking of energy intensity and CO2 emissions intensity can provide a comparison point against which a company or industry's performance can be measured to that of the same type of company or industry in other countries. Benchmarking can also be used for assessing the energy and emissions improvement potential that could be achieved by the implementation of energy efficiency or CO2 reduction measures. Also, on a national level, policy makers can use benchmarking to prioritize energy saving and decarbonization options and to design policies to reduce energy and GHG emissions.

In this study we conduct a benchmarking analysis for energy and CO2 emissions intensity of the steel industry among the largest steel-producing countries. Because of the difference in the composition of the steel industry across countries and the variation in the share of electric arc furnace (EAF) steel production, a single intensity value for the overall steel industry is not a good indicator of efficiency of the steel industry in a country. Therefore, in addition to calculating energy and CO2 intensities for the entire steel industry, we also calculated separately the intensities associated with the EAF and blast furnace–basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) production routes in each country.

Our results show that when looking at the entire steel industry, Italy and Spain have the lowest and China has the highest energy and CO2 emissions intensities among the countries studied. Among several reasons, this is primarily because of a significantly higher share of EAF steel production from total steel production in Italy and Spain and a very low share of EAF steel production in China. The U.S. steel industry's final energy and CO2 emissions intensities rank 4th lowest among the countries studied. Figures ES1 and ES2 show the CO2 emissions intensities for the BF-BOF and EAF steel production routes for the fifteen countries studied.

Some key factors that could explain why the steel industry's energy and CO2 emissions intensity values differ among the countries are: the share of EAF steel in total steel production, the fuel mixes in the iron and steel industry, the electricity grid CO2 emissions factor, the type of feedstocks for BF-BOF and EAF, the level of penetration of energy-efficient technologies, the steel product mix in each country, the age of steel manufacturing facilities in each country, the Capacity utilization, environmental regulations, cost of energy and raw materials, and the boundary definition for the steel industry. These are discussed in section 5.4 of the report.

In view of the projected continuing increase in absolute steel production and the need for deep decarbonization of the steel industry to meet the Paris Agreement targets, future reductions in absolute energy use and CO2 emissions will require innovation beyond technologies that are used today. New developments will likely include different processes, fuels, and materials as well as technologies that can economically capture, use, and store the industry's CO2 emissions. This report sheds light on the relative performance of today's steel industries around the world, highlighting where these future developments can and should take place.

  – Via Global Efficiency Intelligence.

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For Academic Citation: Hasanbeigi, Ali and Cecilia Springer. “How Clean is the U.S. Steel Industry? An International Benchmarking of Energy and CO2 Intensities.” Global Efficiency Intelligence, November 2019.

The Authors