Can steel be produced with new technologies to reduce CO2 emissions and make the process more sustainable? The answer is yes.
Energy-intensive and often based on polluting blast furnaces, the steel industry is not a typical example of sustainability. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And the Brazilian company Aço Verde do Brasil (AVB) proves it to us by quietly leading a sustainable revolution.
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Sustainability in the steel sector
With a climate-focused business model that is very rare for the industry, AVB uses a green alternative to coking coal, with the addition of renewable energy and circular use of raw materials, to create low-carbon products for its customers in the real estate and infrastructure sectors.
In 2020, the company has thus become the first zero-emission steel producer. Not only that: by the end of this year, it plans to operate the world’s first zero-waste steel mill.
Where’s the secret? The eucalyptus plant is at the heart of AVB’s sustainable offering. We’re talking about a plant that takes about seven years to grow, during which it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits when burned during the steelmaking process. “This means it is classified as a zero-emission raw material,” explains AVB co-CEO Silvia Carvalho Nascimento.
This is a big difference from the way steel is normally produced. “Ninety-five percent of steel in the world is produced conventionally from coking coal and iron ore. It is a CO2-intensive process,” Nascimento says. “Brazil is the only place in the world where steel is produced using coal made from eucalyptus.”
Eucalyptus coal for green steel
The choice to use eucalyptus coal was initially made because it seemed the “natural path,” given the resources available locally.
“We are located in the north, in the most remote part of Brazil. So what do you have available? Lots of land to plant, good weather, lots of water,” Nascimento says. ” If you live on the beach, you eat more fish because it’s easier and cheaper. It was the same with coal. Now, almost 15 years later, we realize it was the best choice we could have made.”
Not only is no coal used in the process, but AVB’s plants do not use fossil fuels at all. Instead, they obtain renewable energy by capturing the processed gas from their furnaces. The company is also striving to reuse all residues, from slag to gas.
The growth of interest in green steel
“Commodities are not like a dress where there is this pattern or this color,” Nascimento explains. “No, a commodity is a commodity. So you have to find a way to encourage people to buy it from you. We believe our differential will be on our carbon footprint.”
The process also helps reduce commodity costs at a time when prices are rising. “What is good for the environment is also good for me because you consume less to produce the same steel. We have many projects going in this direction,” Nascimento says.
With the growth of international interest in “green steel” and the company’s rapid growth, there is much to be excited about. But it’s not just about business and profits. It’s a holistic approach that takes into account the needs of workers and the conservation of Brazil’s forests.