U.S. Department of Energy Announces $28 Million to Decarbonize Domestic Iron and Steel Production

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Note: on Thursday, April 18, ARPA-E announced the award recipients of its Revolutionizing Ore to Steel to Impact Emissions (ROSIE) program. Form Energy received a $1,000,000 award to continue exploring its first-of-a-kind process for developing iron powders cleanly and cost-effectively. The below press release from ARPA-E shares more details on this program and the work that Form Energy received the award for.

 

U.S. Department of Energy Announces $28 Million to Decarbonize Domestic Iron and Steel Production

13 Projects Across 9 States Aim to Develop Zero Emissions Ironmaking and Ultra-Low Life Cycle Emissions Steelmaking

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In support of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $28 million in funding to 13 projects across 9 states to advance zero-process-emission ironmaking and ultra-low life cycle emissions steelmaking. The transformative technologies funded through this program would be the first to meet both emissions and cost parity goals, meaning the new, transformative concepts must be cost competitive with existing technologies. The teams announced today—managed by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) under the Revolutionizing Ore to Steel to Impact Emissions (ROSIE) program—support the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals to reduce harmful, climate-change fueling emissions and imports of iron and steel products.

“Iron and steel production are among the most difficult industrial sectors to decarbonize, which is why ARPA-E is laser focused on accelerating game-changing technological breakthroughs to lower emissions from these critical sectors,” said ARPA-E Director Evelyn N. Wang. “Today’s announcement will help the nation achieve President Biden’s ambitious clean energy and net-zero goals while also reinforcing America’s global leadership in clean manufacturing for generations to come.”

The iron and steel industry accounts for approximately 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 11% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. By 2050, global iron and steel demand is projected to rise as much as 40%. This projected growth underscores the importance of lowering emissions from this industry. Current blast furnace technologies—responsible for approximately 70% of global iron and steel GHG emissions—require carbon for heat, chemistry, and structure, making the process particularly difficult to decarbonize.

The ROSIE projects selected today seek to revolutionize not just the iron or steelmaking process, but the entire supply chain from ore to final steel production. The following teams will work to develop and demonstrate novel technologies that produce iron-based products from iron-containing ores and alternative feedstocks without process emissions in the ironmaking step:

 

  • Argonne National Laboratory (Lemont, IL) will further develop a microwave-powered hydrogen plasma rotary kiln process for reducing iron ore that would eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the ironmaking process. Argonne’s method has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions arising from ironmaking by 35% compared to the blast furnace process when using today’s grid and by 88% when using a future low-carbon grid, while also reducing the cost of making hot rolled steel. (Award amount: $3,066,221)

 

  • Blue Origin (Los Angeles, CA) will use an “Ouroboros” system that produces high-purity ferro-silicate pig iron from low-quality iron ores using molten oxide electrolysis (MOE) with zero direct process greenhouse gas emissions. Blue Origin will leverage and transfer the MOE expertise developed for lunar applications toward novel, terrestrial iron making approaches. The approach could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the terrestrial ironmaking industry and clean up mine tailing storage facilities across the country. (Award amount: $1,109,422)

 

  • Electra (Boulder, CO) will develop a process for producing iron at the temperature of a cup of coffee using unconventional feedstocks and a process involving two electrochemical cell stacks. If successful, the project will produce iron for use in green steel with 80% less greenhouse gas emissions at half the cost of existing traditional fuel-based processes. (Award amount: $2,874,596)

 

  • Form Energy (Somerville, MA) will leverage its patent-pending breakthrough to directly produce iron powders from alkaline iron ore slurries in a first-of-a-kind powder-to-powder process. Using domestically available iron ore feedstocks, the process has the potential to produce greenhouse gas emission-free iron at cost parity with today’s carbon-intensive ironmaking methods. (Award amount: $1,000,000)

 

  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) will work on a method to produce net-shaped engineered lattice structures and cellular structures of alloy steels by solid-state direct reduction of extruded structures. Several potential markets for the use of structural steels—where lightweighting and stiffness are most highly valued—include aerospace, military, and civilian aircraft, as well as automotive structural components. (Award amount: $2,843,274)

 

  • Limelight Steel (Oakland, CA) will convert iron ore into iron metal using a laser furnace without emitting carbon dioxide at lower cost than a blast furnace. The process leverages semiconductor laser diodes, which enable new temperature and pressure ranges to reduce high- and low-grade iron ore fines into molten iron metal. Limelight estimates that their technology would reduce energy consumption of steelmaking by 46% and emissions by 81%. (Award amount: $2,910,346)

 

  • Pennsylvania State University (State College, PA) will develop an efficient, productive, and reliable electrochemical process for the economical reduction of iron ore at temperatures below 600°C without direct greenhouse gas emissions. The approach of a metallic anode protected by a solid metal oxide would overcome many of the challenges of anodic degradation that have hindered historical progress in this area. A host of electrolytes will be investigated while processing mixed Fe(II) and Fe(III) ores and simultaneously addressing ore impurities. (Award amount: $760,000)

 

  • Phoenix Tailings (Woburn, MA) will utilize an ore-to-iron production process using the arc generated from an air-gapped electrode to electrolyze the molten oxide electrolyte powered by clean electricity. Molten oxide electrolysis is a promising alternative to conventional approaches, but until now has required anode materials that are either consumable or prohibitively expensive. (Award amount: $1,000,000)

 

  • Tufts University (Medford, MA) will develop a method to directly reduce iron ore concentrates with ammonia, eliminating all direct process emissions from the ironmaking step, as well as emissions that result from baking iron ore with clay to make hard pellets. By using low-grade ores, bypassing the pellet-hardening step, and lowering melting costs, this new approach to ammonia-based reduction would reduce the cost of domestic steel while decreasing total steel emissions by greater than 60%. (Award amount: $2,924,514)

 

  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN) will work on a fully electrified microwave hydrogen plasma process to replace blast furnace technology. The technology will use blast furnace and direct reduction grade iron ore concentrates, eliminating the emissions associated with the pelletization, sintering, and coke-making steps in the conventional blast furnace process. (Award amount: $2,820,071)

 

  • University of Nevada (Las Vegas, NV) will develop technology to use electrowinning to convert pulverized iron ore into pure iron that is deposited on a cathode. The goal is to create a laboratory-scale prototype of an impeller-accelerated reactor that maintains the production of one kilogram per hour of over 95% pure iron for 100 hours. (Award amount: $2,102,353)

 

  • University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT) will advance a hydrogen-reduction melt-less steelmaking technology. The proposed process has the potential to drastically reduce energy consumption by eliminating several high-energy steps in traditional iron and steelmaking and is conducted at substantially lower temperatures than conventional methods. This approach is projected to decrease energy use by at least 50% in the production of steel mill products and up to 90% in creating near-net-shape steel components. (Award amount: $3,479,082)

 

  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA) will focus on manufacturing technologies for low carbon electrolyzed iron powder to be used in iron-silicon electrical steel. The work could revolutionize iron production by replacing the traditional carbothermic process while significantly reducing energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and cost. (Award amount: $1,241,919)

 

Access project descriptions for the teams announced today on the ARPA-E website. If successful, novel ironmaking technologies meeting the metrics set forth by ROSIE will enable a reduction of U.S. emissions by over 65 million metric tonnes CO2 emitted annually (approximately 1% of U.S. emissions) and global emissions by over 2.9 gigatonnes annually (5.5% of global emissions).

ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact clean energy technologies across a wide range of technical areas that are strategic to America’s energy security. Learn more about these efforts and ARPA-E’s commitment to ensuring the United States continues to lead the world in developing and deploying advanced clean energy technologies.

Selection for award negotiations is not a commitment by DOE to issue an award or provide funding. Before funding is issued, DOE and the applicants will undergo a negotiation process, and DOE may cancel negotiations and rescind the selection for any reason during that time.

 

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