Co-production of steel and chemicals could help mitigate hard-to-abate carbon emissions

Written by
Cara Clase, Ph.D., Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment
July 1, 2024

Hard-to-abate sectors accounted for approximately 30% of global CO2 emissions in 2018. One third of these hard-to-abate emissions were a result of the fossil fuels and feedstocks used in the steel and chemical industries. A Princeton-led study suggests that the co-production of steel and chemicals could play a significant role in decarbonizing these sectors. Being the world’s largest producer of steel and chemicals, China’s greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation efforts in this sector will be crucial to lowering hard-to-abate emissions.

Using plant-level geodata and a life-cycle-based optimization model, Dr. Yang Guo, a C-PREE associate research scholar and a Presidential Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore, Prof. Denise Mauzerall, and their research team examined plant-level characteristics of existing steel and coal-chemical plants to model the carbon and cost implications of deploying the co-production of steel and chemicals across China. They suggest extracting and transporting H2 and CO via pipelines from excess steelmaking off-gas to coal chemical plants for chemical syntheses. The researchers used 2022 data from 272 steel plants and 187 coal chemical plants to spatially quantify the supply of H2 and CO from steel plants and the demand for these compounds from coal chemical plants. They then used a customized optimization model to match plant-level H2 and CO supply and demand while maximizing GHG mitigation in a co-production system of steel and chemicals in a cost-effective way. 

“Improvements within individual industries, as typically examined in previous studies, are insufficient for deep decarbonization of industrial systems,” explains Guo. “Integrating different industries is a promising way to achieve  additional carbon mitigation.”

The researchers also found that 60% of total emission and cost reductions could be achieved by 24% of potential connections between steel and chemical plants.  50% of these potential connections are  located in Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, and Shandong, many of which could connect steel and coal chemical plants via short-distance pipelines.  

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