Steel Beyond Coal: Socio-Technical Change and the Emergent Politics of Steel Decarbonisation

Valentin Vogl

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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The steel industry is responsible for 8% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and is the second largest user of coal after the power sector. The main emission source in steel production is the blast furnace, which converts iron ore and metallurgical coal into pig iron that is then further refined into steel. Past efforts to reduce emissions from steel have focussed on increasing energy efficiency and developing carbon capture and storage technology, while continuing to use coal. These efforts have so far had little success and as a result the steel sector remains locked into coal. However, things are beginning to change. In the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, several European steelmakers announced they would close their blast furnaces and replace coal with renewable energy in their mills. Their announcements mark the beginning of a change of mind in the steel sector. Since then, many of the largest steel companies in the world have announced similar plans to abandon the blast furnace production route. This raises several questions. What has enabled this sudden shift to hydrogen and why is it happening now? And furthermore, how can this shift be interpreted in light of the urgency of decarbonisation and wider transformations towards sustainability?
In this thesis, I study the transition from coal to renewable energy in steel production. I show how the Paris Agreement and its imperative to decarbonise the economy is pushing the blast furnace to its technical and economic limits. What is more, renewable energy is becoming cheaper and more technologically mature, which allows steel producers to resurrect the century-old idea of electrifying steel production. In the four papers included in this thesis I study both the steel industry’s lock-in into fossil fuels and different ways to escape this lock-in through policy measures, phase-out politics and innovation. In the thesis summary, I connect the findings in the papers theoretically through a socio-technical transitions perspective. Such a transition, I argue, is already in the making today in diverse instances of an emerging politics of steel decarbonisation, from confrontations around coal mine projects, blast furnace relinings, hydrogen production and trade projects, and green industrial policy. The findings of this thesis are part of a larger conversation on transformations towards sustainability, in which the engagement of civil society is a crucial factor that can make decarbonising primary steel production become a force for sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
  • Åhman, Max, Supervisor
  • Nilsson, Lars J, Assistant supervisor
Award date2023 Feb 3
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-8039-469-7
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-8039-470-3
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 10

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2023-02-03
Time: 09:00
Place: Lecture Hall V:A, building V, John Ericssons väg 1, Faculty of Engineering LTH, Lund University, Lund.
External reviewer(s)
Name: Lockwood, Matthew
Title: Dr
Affiliation: University of Sussex, United Kingdom.

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Energy Systems

Free keywords

  • Steel
  • coal
  • climate change
  • decarbonisation
  • socio-technical transitions
  • sustainability


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