Ford government sees green steel as way to catch up on reducing carbon emissions
Ontario’s steel industry is aiming for a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a move that will help Premier Doug Ford’s government move closer to its climate change goals.
The three largest industrial CO2 emitters in Ontario are all steel mills. Steel production alone accounts for more than 40% of all industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the province, more than the refinery, forestry, mining and chemistry together.
But a push is now underway — funded in part by nearly $2 billion from provincial and federal taxpayers — to convert Ontario’s steel mills to use low-carbon energy sources. The expected reductions in CO2 emissions are expected to make this the Ford government’s biggest initiative on climate change.
The latest step toward so-called “green steel” is Ford’s announcement of a $500 million provincial government contribution to ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton, the country’s largest flat-rolled steel producer. and the largest industrial source of CO2 emissions in Ontario.
The plan is to convert Dofasco’s coal-fired blast furnaces to electric systems by 2028.
“Automakers are investing billions and billions of dollars in finding ways to reduce carbon emissions throughout their supply chain,” Ford said at a press conference Tuesday. “Well, I have news for all of them. This search begins and ends right here in Hamilton with Dofasco Steel.”
Ford’s announcement comes six months after the federal government announced it would invest $400 million in the conversion of the Dofasco plant, meaning taxpayers are contributing about half of the $1.8 billion cost. dollars from the project.
The province and federal government are also supporting another coal-to-electricity project at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, number two on Ontario’s list of the largest industrial greenhouse gas emitters.
The projects will reduce the combined annual CO2 emissions of the two steel mills by up to six megatonnes (MT). Ontario must reduce its total annual emissions by approximately 18 MT from current levels to meet the government’s 2030 target under the Paris Agreement.
“I think it’s a positive development,” said Keith Brooks, director of programs for Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based advocacy group.
“The steel industry is a big emitter, it’s one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize, and we’re not in a world where we’re trying to phase out steel,” Brooks said in an interview. Wednesday.
Despite the potential significance of these steel industry emission reductions, Brooks says the Ford government is still far from meeting its climate change targets, which are less ambitious than the previous Liberal government’s goals and those now set at national level.
“We have no policies in place to increase the adoption of electric vehicles. We have no policies to reduce emissions from buildings. We have no policies to address emissions from industrial facilities,” Brooks said.
Steel production is carbon intensive because the blast furnaces used in the smelting process are fueled by coal and coke (metallurgical coal).
Since Ontario’s electricity generation system is more than 90 per cent CO2-free, converting coal-fired blast furnaces at steel mills to electric arc furnaces will significantly reduce carbon emissions.
“We are going to fundamentally change the way we make steel,” said Ron Bedard, president and CEO of ArcelorMittal Dofasco.
“We will be decommissioning our coal-fired power plants and blast furnaces. Coal will not be used in our future processes here at Dofasco.”
The provincial government is also linking steel conversion to the North American auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles.
“The bottom line is this: if the car of the future is going to be electric, the steel it’s made from must also be electric,” Economic Development and Trade Minister Vic Fedeli said.
The Ford government has come under frequent criticism for its approach to climate change after scrapping the previous government’s cap and trade system, fighting the federal carbon tax all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and weakening Ontario’s CO2 reduction targets.
Internal estimates from the provincial Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks last fall revealed that the government had policies in place to achieve just 20% of the emissions reductions needed to meet its climate change for 2030.
Officials say these figures do not take into account future cuts in the steel sector.