Grant-Funded Research Examines Green Steel Process

Steel Piled up in a factory

(Credit: Canva Pro)

by | Aug 11, 2023

Steel Piled up in a factory

(Credit: Canva Pro)

A Binghamton University professor has received nearly $500,000 in grant funding from the National Science Foundation to research using hydrogen in the steelmaking process rather than carbon.

Professor Guangwen Zhou, a faculty member in the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, received $470,700 in the grant to examine the process on an atomic level. Typically steel is made by removing oxygen from iron ore through a carbothermic approach, mixing iron oxide with carbon and intense heat.

While steel is a critical industrial material used all around the world because of its high strength and low cost, it has a significant environmental impact. Namely, it accounts for 7% to 11% of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, which would make the industry the fifth largest producer of carbon dioxide if it were counted as its own industry.

Replacing the process with hydrogen instead of carbon would have a big impact on the negative environmental effects of the steel process. Zhou has been studying metal oxides for more than a decade and previously won an NSF Career Award in 2011. Most recently, he teamed up with the Brookhaven National Laboratory and other collaborators for two major studies of oxide reactions in real time, the University noted.

“If you look at the reduction of iron oxides with hydrogen, it looks quite simple,” Zhou said in a statement. “You produce iron and water. In reality, it’s actually quite complicated because the reaction involves several other intermediate solid phases. We need to look at which path can be further improved to get better efficiency.”

Zhou is the principal investigator in this latest NSF grant, and he and his students will use Brookhaven’s equipment, “including environmental transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and ambient-pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (AP-XPS) to study possible pathways to reduce iron from iron oxide at temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit),” the statement noted.

The grant funding and research come at a critical time when the United States and other regions are facing new heat records this summer. 

Other steel suppliers have targeted decarbonization efforts across the industry. H2 Green Steel, a producer of near-zero emissions steel, and ZF, an international supplier for the automotive industry, signed a seven-year binding agreement to deliver near-zero emissions steel starting in 2026. 

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