Kalyan is a seasoned industry professional with over three decades of experience in the steel sector. As the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at Jindal Stainless, he has led numerous initiatives related to ESG transformation, carbon neutrality in steel manufacturing, decarbonization pathways, and sustainability. In a recent interaction with the Industry Outlook, Kalyan shared his thoughts on how stainless steel manufacturers are approaching sustainability in recent times, popular eco-friendly practices, and many other aspects.
Tell us about the role of green hydrogen and renewable energy sources in the stainless steel industry’s shift towards sustainability in recent times.
Renewable energy and green hydrogen form the basic part of the stainless steel manufacturing process. Green hydrogen has several use cases across the stainless steel industry, such as steel reduction from iron ore, heating, combining with captured carbon, generating methane, and many others. As a result, the government has already announced several schemes for hydrogen and incentivized that sector. Also, several large-scale hydrogen manufacturers have come forward having high expectations from the steel industry. Currently, we at JSL are using green hydrogen to replace the cracked ammonia and plan to use it for other heating purposes, partially replacing propane and other gases. This way, the energy mix of most of the companies in our industry is transitioning towards clean energy sources. Today, while most of the steel plants operate on grid power, large companies have now taken a resolution to transition towards renewable energy which will be sourced from mega projects of wind and solar energy.
What are some of the key challenges stainless steel production companies are currently facing while utilizing renewable energy sources?
Challenges exist wherein renewable power is not available at a steady rate round the clock and varies according to seasons and time of the day, making it unusable to run the stainless steel plants. Thus, the government is looking at certain policies like banking, storage, and other methods that will enable the steel plants to have a steady state of power. While the dependency on the grid power will still prevail, it is essential for the authorities to immediately take effective measures to reduce the emission intensity of the power grids by adding more sources of clean energy like nuclear and hydro. The high initial cost of installation and low capacity utilization factor of renewable power is also a dominating challenge affecting the adoption of renewable power as a replacement for fossil-based thermal power.
"Stainless steel companies must not only look at achieving a net-zero footprint through just their operations but must also include reducing the carbon footprint over the entire lifecycle of their products"
Given its importance in the present day, suggest a few ways in which stainless steel companies can achieve net-zero status more effectively.
The major levers that we see today in the stainless steel industry while moving towards net zero are renewable energy, waste heat recovery, energy efficiency, technology upgradation, process optimization, substitution with clean fuel, increase in input scrap utilization, and usage of green hydrogen. Most of these have already been brought into practice and are being implemented by many organizations in the industry. Apart from these, other factors such as logistics and fleet decarbonization, by moving towards EVs and transitioning from fuel-based heating to electrical heating with Renewable Power, also play a crucial role in the steel industry achieving net-zero status. Additionally, stainless steel companies must not only look at achieving net zero footprint through just their operations but must also include reducing the carbon footprint over the entire lifecycle of their products. Achieving net zero status is a highly challenging task for the steel industry because ensuring both upstream and downstream carbon footprints are reduced is truly a tough nut to crack for most companies.
How are stainless steel manufacturers prioritizing sustainability in their production process?
At present, stainless steel in India is made mostly using scrap materials as part of the circular economy. Due to this, stainless steel is already green steel due to the very nature of its production process. As the largest stainless steel manufacturer in India today, our production route is electric arc furnaces using scrap materials. Electric arc furnaces can be powered through renewable energy sources, making our stainless steel products more eco-friendly. However, since the stainless steel industry is highly dependent on the availability of scrap as the raw material, the more we increase the usage of scrap in our production process, the more availability of scrap has to be ensured. This can be done through several channels, such as the government's initiatives around the collection and recycling of scrap materials, which will lead to a more robust circular economy and reduce emissions from upstream processes as well.
Throw some light on a few strategies and innovations that steel manufacturers are adopting lately to reduce their carbon footprint.
Apart from energy substitution, a new innovative strategy that the stainless steel industry is increasingly adopting in recent times is carbon capture and utilization. We have to see how effectively large-scale and commercial-scale carbon capture and utilization is finding its place in the steel manufacturing industry. While manufacturers are using this strategy as a pilot project currently, as the industry gains confidence in it and the technology becomes available at affordable costs, there is no doubt that we will witness its widespread adoption. Another effective strategy to reduce the carbon footprint is to ensure that end-of-life stainless steel products are recycled into the industry and streamline the scrap collection and distribution process across the industry.