11 Jan 2024

British Steel supports study into environmentally friendly green fuel

A university research study supported by British Steel is investigating the production of an environmentally friendly green fuel.

The research will investigate whether the fuel, known as biochar, can replace injection coal in blast furnaces and act as a future clean carbon source for electric arc furnace steel production. 

Peatlands are some of the most fertile lands in the UK for food growth, but decay of the peat soil emits large quantities of CO2. Alternatively, by farming this land as sustainable wetlands, growing willow for biomass, the degradation of the peat is prevented. Subjecting the willow crop to a thermochemical treatment called pyrolysis would be used to provide heat to enhance indoor farming productivity and produce biochar – a man-made charcoal. This biochar might then be used as a coal replacement, reducing the requirements for fossil fuels and reducing the net emissions that contribute to global warming.

Academics from the University of Lincoln have secured funding from the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) for the project, and are working with farming estate and biochar supplier Lapwing Energy, CATCH – a champion for clean industrial growth - and ourselves. 

As a partner in the project, we are helping to steer the study and give a technical view on requirements to determine if biochar could replace injection coal and act as a future clean carbon source for electric arc furnace steel production. 

Dr Andy Trowsdale, our Head of Research and Development, said “By partnering with suitable suppliers, it is possible to provide sustainable feedstock materials and at the same time support land use projects that provide environmental benefits that far exceed those related to the fuel.

“A tonne of sustainable bio-carbon optimised for our steelmaking needs will reduce our net CO₂ emissions by three tonnes. But if the requirement for this material can prevent the degradation of peat re-wetting the land, then the CO₂ benefit can be nearly 10 times this amount. Combined with off-setting benefits from not extracting coal and each tonne of bio-carbon from this project has the potential to reduce UK net CO₂ emissions by nearly 30 tonnes.” 

The project is funded by the UK Government as part of the Direct Air Capture and Greenhouse Gas Removal programme. The UK aims to reduce industrial emissions to net zero by 2050 and research projects that have received funding each support that ambition.

IDRIC’s funding ensures that critical decarbonisation technologies are developed and tailored for industry purposes.