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Corporate Governance

Japan steelmakers to start pilot tests to cut carbon emissions

Yuka Obayashi

11 Dec 2015

Japanese steelmakers will start testing in a pilot furnace next year a technique to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions after laboratory experiments have showed promise for the method.

Should the tests prove successful the technique will be key to reducing Japan’s carbon emissions from steelmaking by 30 percent by 2050, a tall order for an industry that relies on carbon-emitting coking coal to make a product used in everything from cars to cutlery.

Cutting carbon emissions from steelmaking will be an important part of efforts to meet targets on global warming that could be agreed as early as Saturday in Paris, where nearly 200 countries are racing to come up with a final text.

Japan’s top steelmaker Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal opened up its research center in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo to the media on Tuesday, and researchers there outlined the technology for cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

While other fuels such as natural gas can be substituted at a cost for burning coal in power plants – which accounts for about 44 percent of global CO2 emissions – there is no replacement for coking coal in blast furnaces at steel mills.

Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.'s Kimitsu steel plant is seen in Kimitsu, east of Tokyo February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.’s Kimitsu steel plant is seen in Kimitsu, east of Tokyo February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Coking coal and iron ore are the main ingredients for steelmaking and are used in roughly equal proportions.

But a method which involves using higher concentrations of hydrogen in coke oven gases to reduce iron ore is being developed by Nippon Steel and other Japanese steelmakers using government funds.

Japan’s steel industry is one of the most efficient in the world but its carbon emissions remain high, although it is aiming to cut them by as much as 30 percent through suppression of emissions and capture of CO2 from blast furnaces by 2050.

“We need a technological revolution, different from what we have been doing,” Seiji Nomura, general manager at process research laboratories at Nippon Steel told reporters during the visit this week.

The pilot furnace at the Kimitsu steelworks in Chiba, which is about 10 cubic meters or about 1/500th of the capacity of a standard unit, will start experimenting with the new technique early next year.

Though situated on a Nippon Steel site, it is part of an industry-wide effort that is backed by 25 billion yen ($203 million) of public funds.

The steelmakers are also developing carbon capture techniques to be used to meet the reduction target, and aim to test a device to trap CO2 emissions from furnaces by linking it to the Kimitsu pilot furnace by March 2018.

(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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