Ross Clark Ross Clark

The madness of the Port Talbot closures

Credit: Getty Images

Hurrah! The UK is just about to reduce its carbon emissions by a further 1.5 per cent. As for Wales, it is going to get even close to the holy grail of reaching net zero, with 15 per cent of its carbon emissions wiped off its slate in one go. True, there will be 2,800 job losses, and it won’t actually reduce global emissions – in fact, it will probably increase them. But who cares about such trifles when you have a legally-binding target of net zero to reach by 2050?

That pretty well sums up today’s announcement that Tata Steel is to close its two blast furnaces in Port Talbot, in preparation of building a new ‘green’ electric arc furnace that will open in a few years’ time. An electric arc furnace won’t really decarbonise steelmaking because it only does half the job. Steelmaking is a two-part process: first, extracting iron from iron ore to make pig iron, followed by turning the pig iron into finished steel. An electric arc furnace can help with the second part but not the first part. The new ‘green’ steelmaking works at Port Talbot will be reliant either on imported pig iron, or on scrap steel. It is, of course, a good thing to recycle steel, and this has been done for many decades. But a growing world economy can’t live on recycled steel alone.

The first part of steelmaking is the really dirty bit. To extract iron from iron ore you need a ‘reducing’ agent to combine with the oxygen in the iron ore and so remove it. In almost all the world’s steelmaking, the reducing agent used is either coking coal or gas – which creates large quantities of carbon dioxide as a by-product.

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