The official press release from Nucor Corporation on December 8, 2022, announced that it had made an equity investment in Electra, a Colorado-based startup developing a process to create carbon-free iron that can be used to make steel. You can read the full press release here.
Leon Topalian, Chair, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nucor Corporation shared the following statement: “We are excited to partner with Electra and its revolutionary process to produce emission-free iron. Just as Nucor changed the face of the steel industry 53 years ago with our first electric arc furnace, successfully developing and scaling up a zero-carbon iron product is the type of transformative technology that could change the steel industry as we know it.”
With this new eco innovation taking center stage at the largest steel producer in the United States and the 14th-largest steel producer in the world, we thought we should break down some key details around this sustainable process.
The Process of Green Steel Production
The steel industry produces around two billion tons each year creating a $2.5-trillion market, while also releasing more than three billion tons of CO2 annually, most of it from blast furnaces. Blast furnace (BF) technology converts iron ore, coke, and limestone into crude iron and carbon dioxide. The iron is then processed in a basic oxygen furnace (BOF), producing low-carbon steel with an additional release of CO2.
In the newly developed process, Electra produces Low-Temperature Iron (LTI) from commercial and low-grade ores using zero-carbon intermittent electricity. Iron ore is then electrochemically refined into pure iron at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) using renewable electricity. That iron can be turned into steel using existing electric arc furnaces.
The Forward-Thinking Future of Energy
Steel contributes up to 11% of global CO2 emissions, making it one of the world’s most energy-intensive industries. With the Paris Agreement being adopted in 2015 and a 2019 commitment from over 60 countries pledging carbon neutrality by 2050, if not sooner, the demands and pressure to work towards decarbonization became front and center, both economically and environmentally.
Nucor’s Executive Vice President of Raw Materials and a member of Electra’s Market Advisory Board, Doug Jellison said, “We are focused on investing our capital on opportunities like these that have the potential to take our company and the entire industry to the next level. We will continue to look to the future for new and innovative ways to help our customers achieve their sustainability goals.”
Nucor is already one of the cleanest steelmakers in the world, largely using recycled scrap as raw material, and Electra’s process would continue this path of sustainability as its process results in zero carbon dioxide emissions.
Nucor and its affiliates are manufacturers of steel and steel products, with operating facilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Products produced include: carbon and alloy steel — in bars, beams, sheet and plate; hollow structural section tubing; electrical conduit; steel racking; steel piling; steel joists and joist girders; steel deck; fabricated concrete reinforcing steel; cold finished steel; precision castings; steel fasteners; metal building systems; insulated metal panels; overhead doors; steel grating; and wire and wire mesh. Nucor, through The David J. Joseph Company, also brokers ferrous and nonferrous metals, pig iron and hot briquetted iron / direct reduced iron; supplies ferro-alloys; and processes ferrous and nonferrous scrap. Nucor is North America’s largest recycler.