CALSTART´s Green Steel Program: driving the future of the sustainable market in the U.S.

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In this exclusive interview, we delve into the world of green steel with a key player in the movement, CALSTART. Jon Gordon, Deputy Director, Green Steel, kindly shared insight into CALSTART´s Green Steel Program and shed light on the ongoing efforts to foster sustainability within the steel sector in the US.

By Lucija Kozina

GSW: Can you tell us about your background and journey into the field of green steel?

JG: My journey started in high school, with a class called AP Environmental that introduced me to climate change and led me to pursue civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis. In my senior year, I started working at their Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Centre. Learning about the world of EVs (electric vehicles) made me fall in love with electric vehicles and the need to decarbonize.

Later I spent three years at CALSTART working on helping deploy electric off-road vehicles in a program called CORE. I worked on the data team helping to assess the technical capabilities and the cost comparison of Class 8 electric trucks compared to diesel. Following that, I pursued a master’s in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, where I delved into steel decarbonization. Now, I am the Deputy Director of Green Steel at CALSTART. I believe there is a lot to learn from the transportation sector as a potential “early mover” and I am trying to draw on the key lessons that can be applied.

GSW: What is CALSTART’s mission, and how does it contribute to sustainability in the transportation sector?

JG: CALSTART, a nonprofit consortium, has been operational for 30 years, acting as a middleman between industry and government. It aims to decarbonize the transportation space by collaborating with and pushing both industry and government to accelerate the transition. The focus is on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including buses, trucks, and off-road vehicles. My team in particular focuses on a variety of topics, such as increasing battery manufacturing in California for EVs (PowerForward) and accelerating the deployment of workplace chargers across the US (Charg@Work). CALSTART also has a global effort, Drive to ZeroTM, involving over 30 countries, to adopt California policies for sustainable transportation.

GSW: What is the Green Steel program at CALSTART, and how does it contribute to decarbonization?

JG: The Green Steel program, part of CALSTART’s light-duty team, focuses on decarbonizing the steel and aluminum used in vehicles. The program aims to jump-start steel decarbonization by working with stakeholders in the automotive sector. The goal is to address the second-largest source of emissions in a vehicle’s life cycle – the production of steel and aluminum.

Between 30 and 85% of a vehicle’s production emissions come from steel. The shift to green steel not only reduces vehicle production emissions but also drives the entire steel industry toward decarbonization.

GSW: How do you define “green steel,” and why is a unified standard important?

JG: Green steel, in the broader perspective, targets zero CO2 emissions per ton of steel. While intermediary goals exist, it is essential to have a unified long-term vision. Initiatives like Steel Zero and First Movers Coalition provide benchmarks, with the ultimate goal of reaching zero emissions by 2050. SteelZero calls for 100% primary steel produced with less than 1.4 tons of CO2 per ton steel by 2030 and the First Movers Coalition calls for less than 0.4 tons of CO2 per ton steel. Eliminating coal from steelmaking is a non-negotiable step toward achieving sustainability.

GSW: Tell us about the recent webinar organized by CALSTART on green steel.

JG: The webinar aimed to engage automakers, educate them about green steel, and aggregate demand to accelerate green steel production in the U.S. The first webinar featured speakers from CALSTART, Volvo Group, RMI, and Steel Zero. The goal was to increase awareness, encourage collaboration among automakers, and create a clear demand signal to drive the deployment of green steel.

GSW: How informed are stakeholders in the U.S. about green steel, and do you think more awareness is needed?

JG: While leading automakers are already aware and competing for green steel, many smaller OEMs are unfamiliar. More awareness is crucial, and additional webinars are necessary to educate stakeholders about the benefits and importance of green steel. Regulations and incentives expected in the near future will likely boost interest and engagement.

GSW: Is there a positive or negative inclination among people toward environmental causes, such as green steel?

JG: There is initial curiosity, but greater awareness comes with incentives and regulations. As more incentives and regulations are put in place, people are expected to care more about environmental causes. The goal is to create a collaborative effort where everyone benefits from increased demand and supply of green steel.

Jon Gordon, Deputy Director, Green Steel, at CALSTART

GSW: What is the current status of the green steel market in the U.S. compared to Europe and the rest of the world?

JG: Europe leads in green steel production and offtake agreements, with the Green Steel Tracker showcasing numerous projects. In the U.S., we are slightly behind, with hope for commercial production starting between 2026 and 2030. A significant milestone is expected this year, with funding from the DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations to support the first or second green steel facility in the U.S.

GSW: How do you see the future of green steel in the U.S., and what milestones are expected in the coming years?

JG: The future involves continued collaboration with Congress to secure more investments for green steel facilities. The aim is to build 8 to 12 total green steel facilities, likely low-emissions hydrogen-based direct reduced iron (DRI) facilities. The ultimate goal is to decarbonize the primary steel industry in the U.S., with key milestones anticipated in 2026, 2030, and 2050.

GSW: Do you believe the 2030 and 2050 goals for green steel are realistic, considering the current state of the industry?

JG: Yes, it is still possible to achieve these goals. Europe is set to have commercial production of green steel by 2025-2026, with over ten European automakers having offtake agreements for green steel. Benchmarks such as net zero by 2050 and commitments like First Movers and Steel Zero for 2030 contribute to making these goals realistic. The challenge lies in accelerating the transition within the time frame.

GSW: Is there room for collaboration between global players like the U.S., Europe, and China, or is it strictly a matter of competition in the green steel market?

JG: While competition exists, the shared goal is fighting climate change. Collaborative efforts are crucial to ensure a swift transition to green steel globally. The U.S. and Europe are aligned in their efforts, with potential trade alignment and discussions on implementing CBAM in the U.S. China, being a significant market player, poses unique challenges, but collaboration is essential to mitigate climate change effectively.

GSW: What, in your opinion, is the biggest obstacle for the green steel market to fully emerge?

JG: The lack of incentives and regulations poses a significant obstacle. Policy drives action, and specific challenges in the U.S. include the need for cheap and reliable electricity on a low-carbon-intensity grid. Overcoming these obstacles is crucial to driving the green steel market forward.

GSW: Can the U.S. produce enough renewable energy to support green steel production, and what sources would you focus on?

JG: The U.S. has ample renewable energy opportunities, including wind in Texas, solar in the deserts, offshore wind, and some hydro and nuclear power. The key is transitioning to renewables faster and ensuring a reliable, cheap, and low-carbon-intensity grid to support green steel production.

GSW: How can original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) use green steel procurement to reduce supply chain emissions, and do you have a specific example?

JG: OEMs can significantly reduce emissions by incorporating green steel in vehicle production. Between 30 and 85% of a vehicle’s production emissions come from steel. The shift to green steel not only reduces vehicle production emissions but also drives the entire steel industry toward decarbonization. With only a minimal cost increase, OEMs can make a substantial impact on production emissions.

GSW: In ten years, do you still see yourself in the climate change industry, and what role do you envision for yourself?

JG: Yes, I see myself working on strategic initiatives, connecting lessons from various decarbonization sectors, and speeding up the overall process. The goal is to learn from transportation and apply those lessons to decarbonize sectors like aviation, shipping, and steel, particularly the hard-to-abate sectors.

GSW: Anything else you would like to share or add for our readers?

JG: CALSTART is actively working with nonprofits. We have launched a website called “Race to Green Steel,” aiming to educate automakers and engage them in the green steel effort. This platform offers resources, educational materials, and webinars to support OEMs in their procurement commitments and policy efforts for green steel.

I would add that I welcome open discussions on the current state of the industry and invite anyone interested to reach out for a meaningful conversation. At CALSTART we value diverse perspectives and look forward to engaging with individuals willing to share insights and explore the topic collaboratively. Anyone can contact me at to contribute to a constructive dialogue about the industry’s present and future.

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Green Steel World Editorial Team
Green Steel World Editorial Team
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