Will the Japanese buyout of U.S. Steel lead to faster climate action? Not likely, advocates say
A Japanese company’s plans to buy U.S. Steel is unlikely to change how fast plants like Gary Works reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Nippon Steel Corporation announced the proposed acquisition on Dec. 18.
Climate advocates said the climate action plans for both companies look similar — and neither is particularly ambitious.
Both companies aim to decarbonize their operations by 2050 and hope to expand the use of electric arc furnaces — which make new steel from scrap.
Hilary Lewis is the steel director at Industrious Labs, a group focused on decarbonizing heavy industry. She said the problem is most of the pollution from steel in the U.S. doesn't come from EAFs, it comes from plants that use blast furnaces. Plants like Gary Works use fuel called coke, made from coal and U.S. Steel hasn’t laid out transition plans for them.
“I’d like to see how they're going to get there, what specific technologies match with each of those sites and what the investment timeline is going to be to make that transition and ensure that the communities benefit, workers benefit and the climate benefits," Lewis said.
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Some technologies show a lot of promise. Lewis said there are three steel plants in the U.S. that use something called direct reduced iron — which significantly cuts the need for coke. Right now, they run off of natural gas rather than green hydrogen produced using renewable energy.
“What we can be doing today is investing in transitioning those existing DRIs and building new ones that run from the get-go on green hydrogen. We have a great environment to be making those investments right now," Lewis said.
Both Nippon and U.S. Steel have plans to use DRI with green hydrogen by 2050, but there are no hard deadlines for meeting this goal.
Lewis said there are grants through the federal Inflation Reduction Act to help cover the cost of creating more green hydrogen as well as new plants that can run on the fuel.
Global and Asia-focused climate action groups say Nippon’s plans to buy U.S. Steel is evidence the company is committed to coal-based steelmaking.
U.S. Steel did not provide an interview.