The world’s largest maker of steel is turning to the humble bunny rabbit for help. In a move to reduce its carbon emissions, the company ArcelorMittal is planning on spending $96 million (£61.6 million) to use a microbe normally found in the gut of these mammals to turn waste carbon monoxide into ethanol that can be used as fuel.
They think that around 50% of the carbon used in the steel-making process leaves the plant as carbon monoxide. Normally, this gas is either burnt off or used to heat and power the steel mill, but both result in the release of masses of carbon dioxide. As reported in the Guardian, a new process looks to use genetically modified Clostridium microbes to capture this waste carbon.
According to Carl De Maré, Vice President of ArcelorMittal, this is an example of how they as a company want to look at lots of different ways of cutting CO2 emissions and moving to a lower-carbon economy in general. “Steel is produced through a chemical process that results in high levels of waste gases being emitted, [and] this new technology will enable us to convert some of these waste gases into fuels that deliver significant environmental benefits when compared to conventional fossil fuels,” explains Maré.
The technology has already been piloted in Chinese plants, showing proof of concept, but the system that is planned on being built in Ghent, Belgium, will be around 30 times larger than what they’ve created before. It’s hoped that after getting things up and running, the facility will eventually be producing 52,000 tons of ethanol that could be used to power up to 500,000 cars when blended with gasoline.
While not carbon-free, as the carbon monoxide is a product of fossil fuels, this means that the carbon has in effect been “double-used,” and therefore the amount of fossil fuel that has to be dug out of the ground is ultimately reduced. The resulting ethanol will then be mixed with gasoline and for every ton of ethanol produced, 5.2 barrels of gasoline will be displaced; they expect this to reduce the mill's carbon dioxide emissions by 2.3 tons.
With the details of exactly how they mean to go about it apparently closely guarded, it would be interesting to see how they’ll manage to create the optimum conditions needed for the fermentation of the bacteria with the carbon monoxide, what other nutrients are needed and at what temperature. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to hear that such a massive global company appears to be genuinely concerned with the steadily warming planet and trying to find ways to mitigate or limit the problem.
“We are tremendously excited to announce this partnership and our first production facility in Europe at a time when it is abundantly clear that we need all solutions and the commitment of large corporations, cities and countries around the world, to help us stay within our 2 degree carbon budget and keep fossil reserves in the ground,” said Jennifer Holmgren, from LanzaTech.