Sunday , 2 April 2023
Home Opinion Opinion: Use Hydrogen now for green steel

Opinion: Use Hydrogen now for green steel

John Bennett Senior Policy Advisor Friends of the Earth Canada

​​As a resident of Hamilton East, I drew a big breath of relief when ArceloMittal Dofasco announced it was getting rid of coal. I didn’t even quibble about using nearly a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money. It’s worth it if we get clean air and low greenhouse gas emissions along with good paying local jobs.

However, like most, I did not read the small print or I would have been asking questions sooner. The big move involves a new natural gas pipeline and burning lots of fossil fuels. Granted there will be a significant drop in emissions from the steel plant, but is it the right project in 2023?

Twenty or so years ago, when climate change policy was first being discussed, natural gas was touted as a “transition fuel” –  a stop gap between burning coal and oil and the emergence of renewable technologies.

At the time, despite the skepticism of people like me, the idea had some merit. If there was going to be a very rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, then employing short term measures like temporarily switching to natural gas made some sense both environmentally and economically. It didn’t happen. The big corporations like ArceloMittal Dofasco balked and supported politicians that weren’t prepared to act on climate change. Almost nothing happened for those twenty some years.

Now the climate crisis –  crazy weather, huge storms, floods and forest fires – predicted back then is upon us and time has run-out for baby steps like switching from one fossil fuel to another. The science tells us we must reduce our emissions as drastically and fast as we can. The time for half measures has passed.

ArceloMittal Dofasco’s proposal might have been a great one years ago, but not today. Even Back then, it might have delivered the projected 60 million tonnes of emissions savings but today we call on the company to do more because the world needs more.

If, as the company says, hydrogen is the answer to green steel in Hamilton, then why not go directly to the solution now instead of putting it off another twenty years? In the long run it will be cheaper and more effective.

Of course the question of hydrogen supply comes up in this discussion. Isn’t it a question of supply and demand? There will never be a supply without a demand. As long as industry is using natural gas there won’t be a supply of hydrogen. If Henry Ford had waited for there to be gas stations everywhere before producing cars, there wouldn’t have been a Model T.

In addition to missing out on millions of tonnes of emissions reductions, switching to natural gas requires a capital investment in long term fossil fuel infrastructure when we should be shifting investment to long term solutions.

A new pipeline to the ArceloMittal Dofasco plant with its expanded capacity will very likely lead  to greater use of natural gas and greater greenhouse gas emissions by other users.

The price of Canadian steel will also become dependent on the world price of oil. Over the last year we have seen huge price increases resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and it’s not the first time this has happened.

Renewably produced hydrogen is largely immune from such market fluctuations. The inputs all come from the environment which is not influenced by geopolitical events.

There is also a very practical reason for Hamilton residents to be concerned. Gas companies are entitled to increase prices to cover the capital cost of distribution. The cost of a new pipeline for ArceloMittal Dofasco could very well be bourne at least in part by us.

If we are going to give ArceloMittal Dofasco $900 million in grants and loans to make green steel, why not do it once and get the greatest possible reduction in emissions now?

John Bennett
Senior Policy Advisor
Friends of the Earth Canada
613 291 6888

1 Comment

  • Many have No Clue about a electric arc fce. Operation.Noice level as high as 120 decibels and a average that will impact hearing over time.Pollution is very high and a health risk.These fces are water cooled and can blow up.Hydro demand in its operations can impact city supply or the other way round.Many negatives in this operation.

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