Transforming Indian steel industry from hard-to-abate into fast-to-abate

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Being one of the fastest-growing large economies in the world, which brings vast increases in energy demand and emissions, India has been taking considerable steps to ensure GHG emissions reduction in various sectors. Seeing as India is the second-largest producer of steel (International Energy Agency), decarbonisation of the Indian steel industry will be key for achieving the country´s net-zero targets. By bringing together key stakeholders from the government, downstream, and the steel industry to discuss the challenges and solutions necessary to achieve an equitable and just transition in India, ResponsibleSteel once again demonstrated the role of its International Standard in impacting policy, finance, and energy transition to accelerate decarbonisation. On 22 July ResponsibleSteel hosted a critical meeting at the 14th Clean Energy Ministerial in Goa, India.

The event featured keynotes from Shri. Nagendra Nath Sinha, Secretary for the Indian Ministry of Steel, Shri. Alok Sahay, Secretary General & Executive Head of the Indian Steel Association, and Annie Heaton, CEO of ResponsibleSteel, as well as a panel discussion between representatives from the Ministry of Steel, JSW Steel, and SteelZero. The discussion was focused on the challenges Indian steel industry is facing as it moves towards a sustainable future, the role of standards and certification programmes for accelerating decarbonisation as well as the investments, innovations and policies needed to speed up this process. In an exclusive interview with Green Steel World, Mrs. Annie Heaton, CEO of ResponsibleSteel, talks about the recent event, India´s efforts for sustainability and much more.

GSW: You hosted an amazing event. Please share your thoughts on the event. Is there anything you are especially pleased with?

AH: First of all, we were delighted to be hosting an event at the Clean Energy Ministerial, but even more so, to be hosting an event focusing specifically on India. We were pleased to have senior representatives from the Indian Steel Ministry and from the Indian steel industry as well as the representatives from the demand side on the panel. I believe the role of standards in drivers of change, such as policy and commercial markets, is clearly recognized which was a very reassuring element of the discourse. This was a national conversation about the national steel decarbonisation challenge and about the potential solutions. The Indian Government has been working very hard with 13 task forces to look at different elements of policy that will be needed to support that transition. So, as an international organization, we were honoured to be convening that kind of dialogue and I was extremely happy with the event.

GSW: During the event you mentioned how impressive India´s efforts on renewable energy are. What do you consider to be the key factor for achieving this kind of exponential growth?

AH: As we all know, India is one of the world’s fastest-growing large economies, which is accompanied by the prospect of vast increases in energy demand and emissions before the country peaks and decarbonises at scale. These emissions will mostly come from heavy industry growth, particularly steel industry, and cement. As I said during the event, the track record that has been established is highly impressive. The country has demonstrated a condensed expansion of renewable energy in the last 10 years. It has 168 gigawatts of capacity to date. The country and the government have not only established their ability to develop new technology and new infrastructure at scale and speed but are also laying the foundations for even more scale and speed as well as foundations for a very strong domestic solar PV industry and wind power manufacturing industry. Mr Raj Kumar Singh, Indian Minister of Power, had reminded the Clean Energy Ministerial that the Indian Government is now inviting bids for 50 gigawatts of capacity per year for the next five years. The scale of that is staggering. If they do that, they will be achieving their 2030 goal three years early.

If we look at it as a jigsaw, we have the majority of pieces: a rapidly developing domestic renewables capacity and a planning permission process that is being accelerated. The missing pieces to finish the puzzle are the finance for new capacity and storage technology seeing as renewable energy growth increases the need for storage capacity. I believe India provides a great example both to the hydrogen industry and to the steel industry of how (exponential) change is possible with the right pieces of the jigsaw in place. With the World Bank recently approving 1.5 billion dollars to accelerate India’s development of low-carbon energy, the backbone of what will be needed for the industry to thrive has been created.

If renewable energy can grow at that scale, if all the obstacles can be overcome and the infrastructure as well as the policies can be put in place, we should not underestimate the potential to do the same with green hydrogen, CCS and green steel.

The discussion was focused on the challenges Indian steel industry is facing as it moves towards a sustainable future.
The discussion was focused on the challenges Indian steel industry is facing as it moves towards a sustainable future.

GSW: CCS, CCU and green hydrogen have been frequently mentioned during the event. Do you think these technologies will perhaps be key in achieving net-zero goals?

AH: We have to look at decarbonisation as a complex challenge. Green hydrogen will definitely play a role. However, I believe it will be limited in the next 10 years. But let us not think about hydrogen only in the best-known technology for making steel with DRI, let us think of it as an input to the blast furnace. It does not make sense to build a DRI plant if there is no hydrogen available. At the moment in Europe and in North America, we see plans for DRI plants with natural gas as the transition fuel. But in India, there are very limited supplies of natural gas which hampers its potential for transition.


“When I joined the steel industry ten years ago, I think you could have described it as an impossible-to-abate sector. It then became known as the hard-to-abate sector. We need to move it to being a fast-to-abate sector.”


Thankfully, there are other means of transition. Firstly, the focus needs to be on maximizing energy efficiency and maximizing the deployment of the best available technologies. There is already some promising innovation, such as ways to reduce lower-grade iron ores without the need for sintering and the emissions that come from the sinter plant. Coke dry quenching is another example that is already being deployed. With regard to hydrogen, we do not need to think of it just as a pure transition to hydrogen DRI, but hydrogen being used in the blast furnace as a reductant which would enable replacing some of the coal that is currently used. If green hydrogen is used, then the emissions will be significantly reduced. In the beginning, it might be grey hydrogen extracted from industrial waste gases. The use of hydrogen in blast furnaces will not present a dramatic change, but numbers show the potential to deliver about a 15-20% reduction and if additional CapEx is utilized, there is potential to go much higher.

If we consider the use of carbon capture, the levels of emissions reduction go even higher. CC is well underway in India, however, bringing it up to industrial scale is hampered by the high costs and the lack of market incentives. Beyond CCU, recent reports show that there is also enormous potential for CCS in India. Often, we look at CCS only in terms of the oil and gas industry and its deep formations that can be used, however, the potential for storage in basalt rocks and deep saline formations in India is vast.

Ms. Annie Heaton, Chief Executive Officer of ResponsibleSteel
Ms. Annie Heaton, Chief Executive Officer of ResponsibleSteel

GSW: A lot has happened since we last spoke. What are some of the achievements you are most proud of?

AH: I could point to particular things we have done, but if I stand back and think, the thing I am most proud of is the trust that I can see in ResponsibleSteel and the growth in understanding of the role of common standards in supporting the industry’s transition. That is demonstrated not only in our partnerships with other initiatives but also in other achievements such as launching a finance working group for our members with investors to explore ways to “untie” the complexities needed to accelerate the transition.

This is what ResponsibleSteel does best, facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogue with a view to driving practical solutions. We aim to provide practical solutions and bring different segments together. We value the trust that is given to us and strive to be transparent when involving people, listening to their input, and enabling them to communicate their perspectives.

ResponsibleSteel created a standard, but the standard is nothing without a market. We are seeing the market emerge now as our membership – not only steelmakers but also customers, miners, civil society and others – is growing. We are seeing the interest of banks and investors grow. And policymakers too. These elements are what will make ResponsibleSteel drive the change that it was designed to do and of that, I am very proud.

GSW: What is next for ResponsibleSteel?

AH: The next big step will be the first certified steel against the ResponsibleSteel international standard. After the first, there will be a second and before long there will be a market for such ResponsibleSteel-certified steel. A trusted standard and then a trusted certificate in the market that customers will be able to use.

The next step will be the results of our 12-month test period, which included a review of our first decarbonisation threshold. We have spent the past year working with stakeholders to fine-tune elements of the standard and make sure it is fit for purpose. Early next year we will be launching the results including any revisions to the threshold. In the next couple of months, you will see a public consultation on the results of our test phase. All the feedback that we have been given on the standard will find its way into the consultation.

Finally, we are also focusing on steelmakers that are planning new steelmaking facilities or capacities that are aimed to be near zero emissions. How will they make a proper assessment and call it a near-zero facility when it has not yet been built and is not yet producing steel? We are planning to develop the tools to enable that kind of assessment to be made in a credible, trusted way, to reassure offtakers and investors. It cannot be certification but we can offer a consistent and independent basis for such assessments using ResponsibleSteel rules.

GSW: Anything you would like to share with us and our readers?

AH: Let us not underestimate the power of exponential growth and disruptive change. We do not know what we cannot see, but what we do know is that change does not happen in a linear way. We are seeing it today with renewable energy in India. We may also see it tomorrow with green hydrogen, CCUS, etc. There are always unexpected changes that can catapult us forward in a way we did not expect. We have witnessed, for example, that direct electrolysis is likely to be demonstrated at scale sooner than we thought possible. The timelines have been moved forward already. For me, that is what gives me hope that this industry will decarbonise. It has the expertise and the technology. We are aware of the challenges and the obstacles, and we will continue to work with others to create the drivers for the necessary change to happen.

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Lucija Kozina
Lucija Kozina
Lucija started her career as a translator. Having moved to Germany, she found herself in editorial shoes and is now doing her best to navigate her way through various industries in order to bring informative but easy-to-read content to readers.

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All images were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, or in compliance with social distancing.