Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Corus



  1.  Through a series of incremental steps, Corus has made important reductions in energy consumption per tonne of steel, which is closely related to CO2 emissions. However, our calculations show that Corus blast furnaces operate close to the theoretical minimum for coke use. Without a radical new technology, further reductions in energy consumption and CO2 emissions will continue to be small and incremental.

  2.  Therefore, Corus, along with a number of industry and research partners is participating in a R&D project to investigate new steel production processes that would radically reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions compared to current production methods. The project has an arbitrary and self-selected target of 50% reduction in atmospheric emissions of CO2 from the iron ore route.

  3.  The project, which is in its first phase, is investigating a number of options, of which Carbon Capture and Storage is one.


  4.  Corus is an international metals group that manufactures, processes and distributes steel and aluminium products and provides related services in design, technology and consultancy.

  5.  Corus has manufacturing operations in many countries with major plants located in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Norway and Belgium, as well as sales offices and service centres all over the world. Corus serves the construction, automotive, packaging, mechanical engineering, metal goods and electrical engineering sectors.

  6.  Corus is organised into four divisions (Strip Products, Long Products, Distribution and Building Systems and Aluminium) and employs 48,300 people. Turnover in 2004 was £9,332 million (approximately

14,000 million) and group operating profit was £582 million (approximately

870 million).

  7.  Europe, principally the EU, is the most important market for Corus for both its steel and aluminium products, accounting for 81% of total turnover in 2004.  The Group's steel divisions accounted for 89% of total turnover in the same period.

  8.  The Group produces carbon steel by the blast furnace and basic oxygen steelmaking method at three integrated steelworks in the UK at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Teesside, and at one in the Netherlands at IJmuiden. Engineering steels are produced using the electric arc furnace method at Rotherham. Corus produced 19.5 mt of liquid steel in 2004.

  9.  Corus produces primary aluminium in two smelters at Delfzijl in the Netherlands and Voerde in Germany. In 2004 these smelters produced 205 kt of aluminium from alumina (processed bauxite) using an electrolysis process.


  10.  The Corus Environmental Policy states:

  "We are committed to minimising the environmental impact of our operations and our products through the adoption of sustainable practices and continuous improvement in environmental performance."

  11.  There are eight contributing policy principles:

    —  Compliance

    —  Management Systems

    —  Continuous Improvement

—  to improve the environmental performance of our processes and products through research and development of new technologies, preventing and reducing emissions and releases, minimising waste and controlling noise.

    —  Sustainable Development

—  to contribute to sustainable development by using energy, water and raw materials more efficiently, thus optimising our use of natural resources.

    —  Product Stewardship

    —  Monitoring and Reporting

    —  Suppliers and Contractors

    —  Local Communities and Biodiversity

  12.  The R&D work currently undertaken by Corus on carbon abatement technologies is part of the efforts of the Group to progress the Continuous Improvement and Sustainable Development policy principles shown above.

  13.  Although production of aluminium from its ore is an energy, and carbon, intensive process the much greater quantity means that steel production accounts for by far the larger proportion of carbon consumed and CO2 discharged by Corus. Thus the focus of research currently undertaken by Corus on carbon abatement technologies is on steel production.


  14.  Over many years the energy consumption per tonne of steel has decreased, sometimes as the result of the introduction of new technologies, such as continuous casting, but also as the result of continuous improvements in process performance. These improvements have been achieved by ongoing process research, investments and improvements in process performance. The improvements made by Corus in recent years are shown in Figure 1 which is a combination of blast furnace and electric arc furnace data.

  15.  The figure shows a significant and important reduction in energy consumption, which is closely related to CO2 emissions, during a period where no radically new processes were introduced. These improvements were the result of many incremental steps. For comparison the average energy consumption in 2003 reported by the International Iron and Steel Institute was 19 GJ/tonne (IISI Report The Measure of Our Sustainability). In the short to medium term it is expected that further improvements will be made in an incremental fashion and Corus has the following target for energy consumption:

  16.  "Reduce total energy consumption in the UK by 11.5% compared to 1997, by 2010 and become one of the world's top steelmakers and primary aluminium producers (in the comparable technology class) in terms of energy use in the Netherlands by 2012"

  17.  The largest source of CO2 emitted by the steel industry is derived from coal, mainly in the form of metallurgical coke, which is used as the reductant in the chemical reactions which transform iron ore to metallic iron in the blast furnace. There is a theoretical minimum requirement for coke in the blast furnace and our calculations show that Corus furnaces operate close to that minimum.


  18.  It has been estimated that the steel industry, worldwide, accounts for approximately 5% of the total anthropogenic CO2 emissions to atmosphere. (J P Birat "The Challenge of Global Warming to the Steel Industry, A European Viewpoint" POSCO Conference, Pohang Korea Sept 2002). Although low in comparison to the emissions from transport, housing and commercial buildings, the individual steel industry sources are large. The industry, particularly in the EU, recognises the need for further, substantial cuts in atmospheric CO2 emissions but figure 1 suggests that further incremental reductions in energy consumption will be increasingly difficult to achieve. To respond to this challenge Corus, together with other EU steelmakers, industrial and academic partners have entered into a major research project, financially supported by the EU via the Framework 6 and Research Fund for Coal and Steel programmes, with the aim of achieving a radical cut in CO2 emissions to atmosphere. That project is called ULCOS (Ultra Low CO2 Steelmaking).

  19.  ULCOS is a

44 million (£29 million), part EC funded, multi-partner research & development initiative to investigate new steel production processes that would drastically reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions compared to current production methods.

  20.  The ULCOS consortium comprises 48 European companies and organisations led by a core group of steel producers including Corus. The consortium is further composed of suppliers to the steel industry, research institutes, small/medium sized businesses and universities.

  21.  The maximisation of the usage of steel scrap is a clear way to reduce the energy requirements in steelmaking and this is an essential recycling objective being pursued by the steel industry. However, it is recognised that production of metallic iron from its ores will continue to be the dominant production route for the foreseeable future and so the ULCOS project is aimed at a radical cut in CO2 emissions from steelmaking based on iron ore reduction. Steel production based solely on the melting of scrap is, therefore, excluded from the ULCOS scope.

  22.  A self-selected and somewhat arbitrary target of 50% reduction in atmospheric CO2 emissions from the iron ore reduction route has been adopted. It is recognised that this target cannot be reached by a continuation of the incremental improvement approach and so it forces a radical re-examination of iron and steel making process options.

  23.  ULCOS is envisaged as a phased initiative with the current project aimed at process research and evaluation leading to a selection and specification of one, or at most two, breakthrough technologies which will meet the ULCOS target. This first phase began in September 2004 and will last five years.

  24.  It will be followed by a second pilot phase, also expected to last five years and then, depending on the outcome of the development work and technical/economic/environmental viability, commercial implementation.

  25.  ULCOS is split into nine sub-projects each of which is briefly described below:

  25.1  The New Blast Furnace

  This is a radical re-examination of the process which currently dominates ironmaking. Replacement of hot air by pure oxygen and recycling of the top gas into the furnace is the most promising line of research. A key step in that process will be the capture and storage of CO2 from the furnace top gas. The New Blast Furnace will remain a coke-based process which will produce liquid iron suitable for conversion to steel in the current way.

  25.2.  Smelting Reduction Processes

  These are alternative, coal based, processes which will produce liquid iron. Their main scope for reduction in CO2 emissions lies in process simplification with energy intensive processes such as coke making eliminated from the process chain. It is likely that CO2 capture and storage will be a necessary part of a smelting reduction process if it is to meet the ULCOS target.

  25.3.  Natural Gas Based Processes

  There are existing, mature technologies which reduce iron ores, in the solid state, by gases derived from natural gas. Only one such plant is in operation in Europe, owned by Mittal Steel in Hamburg. The economic operation of such plants depends critically on the relative prices of natural gas and steel scrap both of which are volatile. Natural gas based processes have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions because of the lower C:H ratio in natural gas compared to coal. ULCOS will examine a wide range of operating scenarios for such processes including close coupling with blast furnaces and the capture and storage of CO2.

  25.4.  Hydrogen Based Processes

  There appear to be no technical obstacles which prevent the use of pure hydrogen as the reductant in processes similar to those based on natural gas. Research is being carried out in ULCOS to confirm that and also to investigate processes for the production of the very large quantities of hydrogen that would be necessary for a bulk steel industry. Such hydrogen production processes would be very similar to those under investigation in the oil and power industries and will need CO2 capture and storage in order to meet ULCOS targets.

  25.5.  Electrolysis of Iron Ores

  Iron ores can be reduced either by carbon (existing processes), hydrogen or by electrolytic means. A number of possible electrolytic processes are under investigation in ULCOS. This is the most radical and therefore risky research in ULCOS with a large number of severe technological challenges.

  Assuming that these challenges can be overcome these processes rely on carbon lean electricity, such as nuclear or hydro power. It is unlikely that this will be available throughout Europe although France and Scandinavia do have such energy sources.

  25.6.  CO2 Capture and Storage

  As has already been described CO2 capture and storage is likely to be a necessary feature of any successful ULCOS process development. ULCOS contains a sub-project devoted to the investigation of the optimisation of CO2 C&S technologies in the context of existing and new iron and steelmaking processes. A description of the research in this sub-project is given below.

  25.7.  The Use of Biomass in Iron and Steelmaking

  The use of biomass is an attractive option for reducing CO2 emissions but the challenges are great. Biomass has low energy density and so processes such as charcoal making or bio-oil production will be necessary. Biomass will either need to be grown specifically for the steel industry, thus competing for land use with agriculture and housing, or it arises over a wide area (eg wheat straw) and will need transport.

  25.8.  The Use of Electrical Energy together with Carbon in Ironmaking

  This sub-project investigates the extent to which electricity can be used as an energy source in the blast furnace or smelting reduction processes. This differs from the Electrolysis sub-project in that some carbon would still be required within the processes. Techniques such as the use of plasma heating will be researched.

  As with electrolysis-based processes this option can only be viable if large scale, carbon lean, electrical energy is available.

  26.9.  Scenarios and Sustainability

  All of the process options investigated in the ULCOS project will be evaluated according to the so-called "triple bottom line" ie:

    —  The economy—especially cost projection in the post-Kyoto context.

    —  The environment—especially CO2 emissions.

    —  The whole spectrum of environmental impact as described by combinations of Life Cycle Inventory (LCI), Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methods, and society factors—using methods such as key performance indicators.

    Relevant stakeholders will be identified and involved in sharing the analysis.


  26.  As already stated CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS) will be a necessary feature of some ULCOS process options, eg The New Blast Furnace and Hydrogen Based Processes and is likely to be required in others, eg Smelting Reduction and Natural Gas Based Processes. ULCOS will also investigate the technical and economic possibilities of meeting the target of a 50% cut in CO2 emissions to atmosphere by using CCS as a retro-fit to existing iron and steel plant.

  27.  ULCOS will examine CCS technologies in the light of the specific conditions of the steel industry, where fumes are dirtier, larger volume and of different composition than in power plant applications. It investigates the practical possibilities for storing CO2 or, to a small extent, for supplying it to the oil industry for EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery), with particular regard to their cost.

  28.  This subproject does not have the ambition to compete with a number of much larger-scale endeavours aimed at exploring various capture and storage solutions and launched by other sectors of the economy, such as the oil and gas suppliers or the electricity producers, eg GESTCO, CO2Store, NASCENT, WEYBURN, CO2NET2, CASTOR, CO2GEONET, CONFITnet, METSTORE. In fact, ULCOS is related to most of the other European Projects in that area through the partners, which are active in this sub-project, especially Statoil, GEUS and BRGM.

  29.  In ULCOS the Steel Industry aims to understand how to integrate these developments into its own processes, focusing on the interface between CCS technologies and iron and steel producing processes. The major point is to optimise the gas quality flowing from the iron or steelmaking process to the CCS facilities, and to optimise the process of capture itself, in order to minimise overall cost.

  30.  The starting point of the ULCOS work on CCS is a specification of the gas streams from which CO2 can be captured. This is already known for existing iron and steel plant and best estimates based on flowsheet calculations have been made for the new "ULCOS" processes. Specification of the purity and pressure of the captured CO2 has been made by reference to the requirements for pipeline and ship transport, and for EOR or geological storage in saline aquifers. These input and output specifications are being used to select and optimise the most appropriate CO2 Capture technologies for the process options.

  31.  Two classes of CO2 Capture technologies are being investigated in ULCOS, "Existing" and "Emerging" processes.

  32.  The existing processes under investigation are:

    —  Absorption: Amine and similar solvent absorption processes.

    —  Adsorption: Pressure Swing Adsorption and variants.

    —  Membrane: Membrane separators and contactors.

    —  Cryogenics.

  For each of these processes the description of an industrial unit, at least 100,000 m3/h will be made, in terms of flowsheet calculations, technical performance and layout, so that investment and operating costs can be evaluated.

  33.  Two "Emerging" or innovative CO2 Capture technologies are being investigated within ULCOS. These are:

    —  Cyclic carbonation and calcination of natural limestones.

    —  Capture of CO2 using Hydrates.

  Both use a cyclic capture and regeneration method in which a relatively pure CO2 stream will be produced from a process gas stream.

  As with the existing processes a description of an industrial scale unit, with costs will be produced but because of the innovative nature of these processes a greater degree of uncertainty is expected.

  34.  The output from all of the CO2 Capture processes under investigation in ULCOS will be a stream of CO2 with sufficient purity and pressure to allow transport and geological storage. No research will be done in ULCOS on transport or geological storage as this work is being done in other large research projects. However, a detailed study of the geological feasibility and logistics of CO2 Transport and Storage from large, integrated iron and steel works operated by ULCOS partners will be carried out.

  35.  Mapping of potential CO2 storage sites has already been done in the GESTCO project which has identified sites in the North Sea which may be useable as storage for the Corus sites of Scunthorpe, Teesside and IJmuiden.

  36.  Research into a novel CO2 storage process is also being carried out in ULCOS. This is the permanent storage of CO2 by carbonation of natural minerals such as olivines, or industrial by-product streams such as steelmaking slags. Although carbonation of steelmaking slags cannot achieve the full 50% reduction in emissions aimed for in ULCOS, because of the mismatch in quantities of CO2 and slag, there is the potential for a useful contribution to be made.

  37.  Each of the technically viable process options for CCS investigated in ULCOS will be subjected to the Sustainability (Triple Bottom Line) evaluation before adoption as part of the ULCOS process specification.


  38.  As already stated ULCOS is envisaged as a phased research, development and implementation programme. The first, research phase, began in September 2004 and will last for five years. Its target is to specify one, or at most two, breakthrough process routes that will meet the ULCOS target.

  39.  The second, pilot phase is also envisaged as a five-year project, between 2010 and 2015.

  40.  If that phase is successful, as measured by the "Triple Bottom Line" criteria a steady commercial implementation of the "ULCOS" technology is foreseen, over perhaps another 10 to 15 years.

  41.  This, therefore, represents a long-term technological roadmap for CO2 mitigation for the European steel industry.

  42.  Opportunities for more rapid deployment of aspects of the ULCOS technologies, for example CO2 Capture and Storage, are likely to arise during this period and these will be actively sought and pursued. As an example, a study of the feasibility of the retrofit of CCS technology to existing European iron and steel plant is an early objective of ULCOS. Such opportunities will be site specific and will be evaluated using the economic, environmental and societal Sustainability criteria.

  43.  Opportunities may also arise for the implementation of ULCOS technologies, both iron making and CCS, within the rapidly developing economies of China, India and Brazil.


  44.  The European steel industry has recognised the need for a very significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO2.  It also recognises that such a cut cannot be achieved, at current output levels, without a technological breakthrough. Therefore the industry, with financial support from the European Commission, is actively engaged in a major research project aimed at a radical cut in atmospheric emissions of CO2.

  45.  A wide range of iron making process options are under investigation as are carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. All of those process options will be evaluated according to the "Triple Bottom Line" criteria of Economy, Environment and Society. A successful process outcome must not disadvantage the European steel industry, in an economic sense, with respect to our competition outside Europe otherwise a shift of production to other regions, with possibly less efficient plant, may occur with no benefit in reduced CO2 emissions.

  46.  The ULCOS research project represents a long-term technological roadmap for CO2 mitigation within the European steel industry and it will run alongside the important and ongoing pursuit of incremental improvements in energy efficiency within the industry.


  Information in this document that is specific to Corus has been drawn from the Corus documents:

    —  Report and Accounts 2004

    —  Corporate Responsibility Report 2004

  Both of which are available on-line at

  Information on the ULCOS project has been drawn from the project proposal submitted to Framework 6 programme on 15 March 2004.  Authorship of that document was by all of the ULCOS partners with overall coordination by Arcelor I-R&D, Maizieres-les-Metz, France. The coordinator of the ULCOS project is Jean-Pierre Birat of Arcelor I-R&D.

  The ULCOS project is supported financially by the European Commission through the Framework 6 and Research Fund for Coal and Steel programmes.

September 2005

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 9 February 2006