China’s new 2027 “green construction” target to boost domestic steel decarbonization

China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has set a target for the building of green and low-carbon high quality buildings from 2027 to make significant improvements in energy-saving and carbon emission reduction in the construction sector, it said in a notice on Friday March 15 2024

This new target is also expected to increase China’s domestic demand for green steel products in the future, which are the key raw materials for green buildings, sources told Fastmarkets.

China’s road to green buildings

With the new target, China expands its commitments to make the building and construction sector as green as possible due to increasing urbanization and the national “Dual Carbon” targets i.e. 2030 target for peak carbon emissions and full carbon neutrality by 2060.

Statistically, 77% of China’s new urban construction projects in 2020 were designated green buildings, according to government data.

Green buildings are buildings that provide energy savings, carbon emission reduction, healthy and environmental-friendly residential environments and comfortable utilization experiences throughout the entire lifecycle of the asset.

China’s National Green Building rating system (GBL) was established in 2006 with a three-star system to evaluate residential, commercial and public buildings.

In February 2022, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MHURD) issue a further action plan called Building Energy Conservation and Green Building Development (2021–2025), mandating that all new urban buildings, by gross floor area, in China will be constructed in line with the green building standards by 2025.

According to the action plan, by 2025, the newly urban buildings with ultra-low carbon emission and energy consumption will have increased by 20 million square meters compared with 2023, and the renovated buildings with significant energy-saving capabilities will have increased by 200 million square meters.

Steel on the rise

Steel structures are widely used in the construction of public transit stations, shopping malls and factory buildings. This has been a key solution to meeting green steel construction targets in China, market participants said.

The raw materials of steel structures are mainly flat steel, section steel, fasteners, and stainless steel. Steel structures avoid using concrete, which is a major pollution source and energy consumer in China.

China’s steel structure consumption will reach 140 million tonnes by 2025, accounting for more than 15% of the country’s crude steel production, according to the 14th five-year plan and long-range objectives for the steel structure industry released by the China Steel Structure Association (CSSA).

China’s steel structure production was 101.8 million tonnes in 2022, with a year-on-year increase of 4.95%, accounting for 10.05% of the crude steel production, according to CSSA data.

The central government encourages enterprises to establish a quality control system for the entire lifecycle of production, construction and installation of prefabricated building components, and promotes on-site supervision of prefabricated building component manufacturing, according to the Outline for Building a Quality Strong Country published by the State Council in 2023.

“The development of steel structure contributes to the good demand for flat steel and section steel, but weakens the demand for rebar. This trend is likely to continue in the coming years,” a trader in Shanghai said.

Green steel is promoted yet awaits industry assessment standard

China’s 2021-2025 action plan for green buildings encourages the usage of low carbon emission and high-quality rebar, which is the dominant material for construction.

According to stipulations in the action plan, government-invested projects should predominantly use green steel for construction.

But the ambitious target to use more green construction steel products might take a longer period to achieve, sources told Fastmarkets.

China has been the largest crude steel producer in the world since 2003, but about 85% of its production is from blast furnace steelmaking process. This has made the country’s steel industry a major player in global decarbonization efforts, sources said.

In 2023, China produced 1.02 billion tonnes of crude steel in 2023, unchanged from 2022, according to data published by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The country’s output of finished steel was 1.36 billion tonnes in 2023, up by 5.2% year-on-year from 1.30 billion tonnes (adjusted from 1.34 billion tonnes).

Some Chinese steelmakers have been working to produce greener steel products by using new energy sources and increasing the ratio of high quality iron ore pellet and ferrous scrap in blast furnace steelmaking to meet the increasingly strict requirement from downstream steel markets like the automotive sector.

For example, Shougang Jingtang in north China’s Hebei province has hit 40% ferrous scrap utilization in its converters by preheating the raw material and has thereby reduced carbon emissions by 30% in its blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) steelmaking process.

A mill source in southern China said the first step for Chinese steel mills to develop low-carbon emission steel was to meet the ultra-low carbon emission steelmaking process requirement by the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA)

Since August 2020, CISA has carried out publicity work on ultra-low emission improvement and assessment for the country’s steelmakers in terms of the steelmaking process, with 129 steel mills passing the assessment as of March 10, 2024.

“China’s steel industry is still waiting for more detailed regulations or standard to define or provide certifications for ‘green steel’,” a Beijing-based mill source said.

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