Companies claim to be associated with Green Metals for one of two reasons. Some make these claims because they supply materials to sustainable industries for things like wind & solar power, as well as electric vehicles. The remaining group of companies assert their connection to Green Metals by highlighting their environmentally conscious practices during the extraction process, and their initiatives aimed at achieving a more environmentally friendly finished product – with the ultimate aim of reaching net zero emissions.
In the face of climate change and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, industries worldwide are looking for new and innovative solutions to reduce their environmental footprint. One emerging solution gaining momentum is the adoption of low-carbon metals. These metals are not only critical for the development of cleaner, more sustainable technologies but also for achieving global climate goals. In this article, we will explore the importance of low-carbon metals, how to achieve low-carbon metals and how they are transforming various industries to create a greener, more sustainable future.
The Carbon Challenge
Carbon emissions have become a pressing issue in the 21st century. The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes have led to a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. This has caused global temperatures to rise and prompted drastic climatic changes. To mitigate these effects and work towards a sustainable future, industries and governments are increasingly focusing on reducing their carbon emissions.
Low-carbon metals are often referred to as “Green metal”, which refers to a metal with lowest total life cycle carbon (Clc) emissions over its useful period.
The measure of “green” (Clc) includes carbon (Cm) related to the mining of raw materials, carbon (Ct) from transporting the metals, carbon (Cp) from refining and purifying the metals for use, carbon (Cf) from melting and forming the metal, carbon (Cr) from the recovery and recycling of the metal so it can be used again, and last, the carbon (Cd) associated with disposal of the metal when it is no longer usable. The Life Cycle Carbon equation of a metal could be written in simple terms as - Clc = Cm + Ct + Cp + Cf + Cr +Cd
The Role of Metals
Metals play an integral role in our modern world, from construction and transportation to electronics and renewable energy. However, the production of traditional metals, such as steel and aluminium, is energy-intensive and generates a significant amount of carbon dioxide. This has made it imperative to find greener alternatives and more sustainable production methods.
The metals industry contributes about 8% of global carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions, with most emissions coming from the iron and steel sector. Aluminium is another significant source of metals CO2e emissions, albeit smaller in comparison.
Green metals are often defined by their CO2e intensity, with a target of reducing CO2e emissions per ton of metal produced. Factors affecting CO2e emissions include mining methods, transportation, refining processes, energy sources for melting, the ratio of raw to recycled content, and transportation to consumers.
This diverse range of factors affecting the sustainability of metals often result in complex, manual calculations making it difficult for downstream customers to identify which suppliers operate sustainably.
Efforts to reduce CO2e emissions include eliminating unnecessary energy consumption, increasing the use of recycled materials, and adopting energy-efficient practices like improved lighting and motors. Transitioning from fossil fuels to electrification and green hydrogen is also seen as a significant step, although it comes with infrastructure challenges.
Low-Carbon metals: A solution
Low-carbon metals are metals produced with significantly reduced carbon emissions compared to their traditional counterparts. These metals are at the forefront of a sustainable industrial revolution, as they offer a means to maintain essential production while lowering the carbon footprint.
The need for green metals is expected to grow, putting pressure on existing operations to reduce CO2e emissions while meeting increased product demands. Additional decarbonization methods, such as renewable energy, waste heat utilization, solar melting, and carbon capture, are also discussed as ways to further reduce emissions.
Steel is a fundamental material in construction, manufacturing, and transportation. Low-carbon steel production techniques, such as electric arc furnaces and hydrogen-based reduction, have drastically reduced the emissions associated with steelmaking.
Traditional aluminium production is energy-intensive and carbon-heavy. Green aluminium is produced using renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, and emits only a fraction of the carbon dioxide compared to conventional methods.
Copper is crucial for electrical wiring and electronics. Clean copper production minimizes environmental impacts through efficient processes and recycling.
Nickel is a key component in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. Sustainable nickel production is vital for greener transportation and energy solutions.
Applications Across Industries
Low-carbon metals are a critical component for a wide range of industries:
Electric vehicles (EVs) are on the rise, and low-carbon metals play a critical role in their production. Lighter, more efficient vehicles help reduce emissions and combat climate change.
Solar panels, wind turbines, and energy storage systems rely on low-carbon metals to improve efficiency and sustainability.
Low-carbon steel and aluminium are used in sustainable building projects, reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry.
The electronics industry is adopting low-carbon metals for a more environmentally friendly approach to manufacturing.
The world's first delivery of "green steel," produced without coal, happened in Sweden in 2021. Hybrit, a Swedish venture, supplied this green steel to Volvo AB as a trial run before full-scale production in 2026. Traditional steel production using coal contributes to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Hybrit aimed to replace coal in steelmaking with renewable electricity and hydrogen. This aligns with the EU's goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Hybrit is owned by SSAB, Vattenfall, and LKAB, and it marks an important step towards a fossil-free steel value chain. Another green steel project, H2 Green Steel, plans to establish a fossil fuel-free steel plant in northern Sweden, with production starting in 2024, as well as Tata Steel in India, who are manufacturing low-carbon steel.
Challenges and Future Outlook
While low-carbon metals represent a significant leap towards a sustainable future, challenges remain. Scaling up low-carbon metal production can be costly and requires investments in research, development, and infrastructure. Additionally, ensuring the responsible sourcing of raw materials and maintaining high environmental standards are ongoing challenges.
Hydrogen produced through electrolysis using water and renewable electricity is considered a clean energy source for steel production. When burned, hydrogen emits only water, resulting in zero CO2 emissions. Another method, known as "blue hydrogen," involves hydrogen production using fossil fuels and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies.
Furthermore, it can be difficult for the end-consumer to see the fruits and benefits of all the sustainability efforts a company is making, on their path to net-zero. Having these breakthroughs and achievements mentioned in an annual report will not get the attention of most end-consumers, as they simply will not see it, since they are not purview to those reports, or simply don’t have the interest to study lengthy reports.
If companies instead use technology available in the market today, to share their sustainability journey with the end-consumers, through interactive material – such as photos and video, along with very detailed and easy to digest information, concerning the sustainability steps taken by the manufacturer and their upstream supply chain – and making this information available on the finish products themselves, a company can increase the chances of consumer engagement and interaction from their downstream end-consumers. Companies should look to technology partners, who have credible and verifiable solutions in place, such as Myneral Labs who’s technology is based on blockchain technology. This leaves a fully verifiable trail throughout the entire supply chain for the end-consumer to explore and engage with, during their purchasing process.
If consumers can see where the product in their hands comes from, this can help drive their purchasing and overall decision making towards sustainable and traceable brands.
Large-scale clean hydrogen production will require significant investments in renewable power generation.
The shift from traditional blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces is progressing slowly, and the availability of low-carbon hydrogen remains a major roadblock.
However, the future outlook is promising. As demand for low-carbon metals increases, economies of scale and technological advancements will make these materials more accessible and cost-effective. Governments, industries, and consumers are recognizing the importance of low-carbon metals in the fight against climate change, and this momentum will drive further innovations and improvements.
Europe's ArcelorMittal, for instance, estimates it could cost up to $40 billion to decarbonize its operations in line with EU targets. China, as the world's largest steel producer, also has ambitious carbon neutrality goals.
Low-carbon metals are instrumental in the transition to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future. They are key players in the battle against climate change, as their production and applications help reduce carbon emissions across various industries. As technology and awareness continue to grow, low-carbon metals will play an increasingly pivotal role in achieving a greener and more sustainable world.