Hydrogen-powered steel production is coming

The recent COP26 conference in Glasgow has concluded that the world must stop burning coal if it hopes to avoid catastrophic global temperature rise. Will the new policies be a threat to the Elk Valley and our coal dependent economy?

Research suggests that steel production is responsible for about 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The production of steel generates significant greenhouse gas emissions and is the largest single industrial global emitter after cement. In efforts to move to a net zero-carbon world, steel has historically been treated as “hard to abate” or part of the “last 20% of emissions.”

Niney-five per cent of B.C. coal is metallurgical and the Elk Valley continues to be the leader in coal extraction and export.

Coal is easily B.C.’s most valuable mined product, with sales close to $4 billion and coal production employs thousands of people, mostly in the Elk Valley.

The most promising possibility of reducing emissions is the idea of removing metallurgical coal from the process altogether.

If the swing toward green steel production was to happen quickly, it would undoubtedly render the Elk Valley’s coal industry obsolete. But the transition is going to take time.

Teck Resources reports that Elk Valley operations have reserves that could last more than 28 years — with Greenhills supporting 47 more years of mining.

Teck says it made 35 per cent of its nearly $4 billion in 2020 revenue from metallurgical coal mining.

“Steel and steel-making coal are needed to build the infrastructure required for the transition to a low-carbon economy, including renewable power systems,” Teck stated.

“Our analysis suggests that across multiple climate scenarios … demand for seaborne steel-making coal will remain robust through 2050.”

In clean hydrogen-powered steel production, there is a technology available to move away from high-emitting practices. The big hurdle is the transition and how aggressively it’s pursued.

We need to plan for life without coal mining in the Elk Valley, however not for decades.