Steel is such an important material in our modern world, but making it also produces quite a bit of greenhouse gases (an estimated 5% of the world’s total GHG emissions), as well as consuming copious amounts of energy. But that may change, as news of a new steel making method developed at MIT hints at cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient steel production in the future.
Currently, for each ton of steel produced from iron ore, almost two tons of CO2 emissions are generated, so reducing that figure would be a big step in the right direction. The new method goes above and beyond that, however, and produces just pure oxygen, enabling a possible carbon-free future for steel production.
The process used by the researchers, molten oxide electrolysis, was being pursued as a possible way to produce oxygen on the moon (using iron oxide from the soil there), and one of the unintended consequences of this method was that is also produced high-quality steel. But among the challenges for this research was coming up with a non-consumable anode for the process, which usually requires expensive materials such as iridium or platinum.
The team solved that issue by developing an alloy made from chromium and iron – both of which are considered abundant and inexpensive. The alloy was used to success on a small scale, and while much work remains to be done to scale it up, the researchers are working to develop a commercially viable prototype over the next couple of years.
In addition to producing less GHG emissions, the new method of producing steel is said to be 30% more efficient than current methods:
“The electrolytic route actually consumes less energy.” – Donald Sadoway, professor of materials chemistry at MIT
The research is published at Nature: A new anode material for oxygen evolution in molten oxide electrolysis
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