Electrolysis could be key to net-zero steel future: SSNA

Electrolysis processes developed by Boston Metal and Electra that eliminate the need for coal in steel production could be key to a net-zero emissions future for the metallics industry, attendees learned at Fastmarkets’ conference on January 17-19 in Dallas

Woburn, Massachusetts-based Boston Metal plans to begin licensing its molten-oxide electrolysis (MOE) technology to the steel industry in 2025, with wide-scale use expected in the second half of this decade, Adam Rauwerdink, senior vice president of business development, told Fastmarkets in an interview on the sidelines of Fastmarkets’ Scrap & Steel North America 2023 event.

In the long-term, the technology is ideal for greenfield projects, but there are opportunities to co-locate the modular MOE cells next to existing steel mills in the near-term too, Rauwerdink said.

Boston Metal is testing this same technology to process mining waste and other minerals in Brazil.

Boulder, Colorado-based Electra uses a low-temperature, oxygen-decoupled electrolysis process to refine iron ores with as low as 30-35% iron content at 60ºC (140ºF), according to Sandeep Nijhawan, the company’s cofounder and chief executive officer.

“Because we use a low-temperature process, we can start and stop production at our plant on demand, based on the availability of intermittent renewables like wind and solar,” Nijhawan told Fastmarkets. “This aspect is critical because metallic ironmaking is a highly energy-intensive process and cost is a critical factor.”

Electra is building its pilot plant this year and plans to present demonstrations for commercial deployment by the end of the decade, he said. Last month, Electra announced a partnership with Nucor to scale this technology and lower the steelmaker’s carbon emissions.

Such breakthroughs in technology could lead to significant reductions — or even the elimination — of the “green premium,” according to market participants.

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