Promotion of innovative technology development

Technical Issues for realizing a carbon-neutral production process

In nature, iron exists as oxidized iron ore. To produce steel products, oxygen must be removed (= reduced) from iron ore. This reduction process has been carried out by the blast furnace (BF) and the basic oxygen furnace (BOF), using carbon such as coal.

In this process, coal (coke) is 1) a reducing agent, 2) a source of heat, and 3) plays a role to support the function of raw materials at high temperature in a solid form while facilitating to maintain ventilation in the furnace. Although the coal (coke) has been utilized in a continuous, efficient steelmaking from iron ore, CO2 is inevitably generated during the reduction reaction.

We are therefore drastically reviewing this process and plans to reduce CO2 emissions by replacing coal (coke) as a reducing agent with hydrogen to produce H2O instead of carbon in the reduction.

However, as reduction with hydrogen is an endothermic reaction, the temperature drop in the furnace causes problems such as the reaction not being sustained and the iron not melting. In order to realize hydrogen steelmaking, we are tackling these problems by development of breakthrough technologies such as 1) high-temperature heating of flammable hydrogen, 2) securing of gas flow in the furnace, 3) additional melting process, and 4) large-scale production for production.

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Reduction with carbon vs. hydrogen

Challenge of developing breakthrough technologies

(1)Reduction with hydrogen in blast furnaces

Japan’s three blast furnace steelmakers and Nippon Steel Engineering have been developing the COURSE50 blast furnace, which partially replaces carbon used in the furnace as a reducing agent with the hydrogen-rich gas generated in the integrated steel mill. We have already verified that the technology can reduce CO2 emissions in the test furnace. We plan to start demonstration of the COURSE50 at Kimitsu No. 2 blast furnace in the second half of fiscal 2025 as a Green Innovation Fund project.

Our subsequent plan is to install a working COURSE50 blast furnace by fiscal 2030, work on solving the issues related to the endothermic reaction and the scale-up of the furnace, and to develop the Super COURSE50 technology so that we can reduce the blast furnace CO2 emissions by 50% using additional hydrogen from outside. The goal is completion of the implementation by 2050.

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The COURSE50 Project1, The Super COURSE50 Project2

The COURSE50 project focuses on the technology for reducing the amount of carbon to be injected into blast furnaces. This is done by using by-product gas generated in integrated steel mills, which is currently used in furnaces. The project aims at realizing the hydrogen steelmaking in some degree, given the current circumstances, under which there is no social infrastructure for supplying large volumes of hydrogen.

From 2008 to 2021, we have developed technologies to lower CO2 emissions by 30%: a 10% lowering emissions from a blast furnace by adopting technologies to reduce iron ore by use of hydrogen gases and a 20% offset by CO2 capture from BF gases. As for the reduction technology that utilizes hydrogen in part, a 10% reduction of CO2 emissions has been verified at a 12 m3 experimental blast furnace at the Kimitsu Area of the East Nippon Works. As for the latter CO2 emission reduction technology, the project developed a high-performance CO2 separation and recovery technology based on chemical absorption techniques, which has already been put into practical use in the CO2 industry.

We are also involved in development under the Super COURSE50 subsidized by the Green Innovation Fund project, with an eye on the era when the social infrastructure for sufficient hydrogen supply is available toward realizing the Carbon Neutral Vision. The Super COURSE50 is designed to purchase hydrogen from outside steelworks, increase the amount of hydrogen injection into the BF further, maximize the portion of hydrogen reduction, and minimize the amount of carbon injected into the BF.

1 Commissioned project by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO)

2 The Green Innovation Fund “Hydrogen utilization in iron and steelmaking processes” project (NEDO’s R&D outsourcing support and assistance project)

NEDO “Hydrogen utilization in iron and steelmaking processes” project

(2)High-grade steel production in large-sized EAFs

In fiscal 2022, the new electric arc furnace (EAF) started commercial operation at the Setouchi Works Hirohata Area, and we will accumulate knowledge of high-grade steelmaking in an EAF through the commercial production of electrical steel sheet in this world’s first such integrated steelmaking arrangement. At the same time, we are developing high-grade steelmaking technology in large electric furnaces in a Green Innovation Fund project. As a part of the project, we will set up a small EAF (capacity: 10 tons) in the Hasaki R&D Center and start experiments in fiscal 2024.

Our subsequent plans are to establish technology to produce highgrade steel that can be used for automobile outer panels, by using direct reduced iron with hydrogen from low-grade iron ore and also using steel scrap as materials. By controlling the impurity concentration using a largesized EAF process (approximately 300 tons in processing volume), similar volume as BF-BOF process, we will establish the technology by fiscal 2030.

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(3)100% hydrogen use in direct reduction process

In the 100% hydrogen use in direct reduction, we try zero CO2 emissions in reduction process by fully using hydrogen as the reducing agent. Since this process produces solid direct reduced iron (DRI), it is necessary to melt it and separate out its gangue component (the material present together with ore) in the subsequent process such as in the blast furnace (BF) or EAF.

Most of the actual direct reduction methods currently use high-grade iron ore, which is not easily broken or sticked to each other, during the reduction process. As the high-grade one is limited to about 10% of iron ore available in the market, we will challenge to use lower-grade iron ore in the process. Current DRI process uses methane (natural gas) as the reducing agent. Methane contains carbon and hence emits CO2. We try 100% use of hydrogen as the reducing agent in the direct reduction process. The process, however, has its own high technical issues, too. Since the reduction process with hydrogen is an endothermic reaction, it is necessary to supply heat to maintain the reaction. In addition, in the case of using a shaft furnace, powdering of the raw material pellets, and sticking of produced iron pellets are the problems to be solved.

As a Green Innovation Fund project, we will build a small furnace (10 tons) in the Hasaki R&D Center and start experiments in fiscal 2025. Then, by 2050, we aim to solve issues such as utilization of low-grade iron ore and conversion of reduction material from natural gas to hydrogen, and to commercialize a direct hydrogen reduction reactor using low-grade iron ore from Australia and other countries as feedstock.

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Efforts toward stable procurement of hydrogen

Nippon Steel has a strong interest in hydrogen from a variety of perspectives, including the fact that we have the potential to become one of Japan’s leading hydrogen users in the future (we estimate that the amount of hydrogen needed to be carbon neutral at our company will exceed 7 million tons per year), the need to realize a lower hydrogen price than other industries need3, and that we are a major supplier of steel for hydrogen infrastructure.

We therefore participate in various hydrogen-related councils promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Energy Agency, as well as the cross-sectional network that includes hydrogen-related industries such as energy, automobiles, and chemicals, and various organizations. We are also mindful of working with the system design, not only for Nippon Steel but for the entire steel industry, when needed.

Concerning the overseas procurement of hydrogen, we are considering cooperation with overseas resource majors, who may potentially supply hydrogen to us. We are thus active on a wide and widening front.

3 Target hydrogen cost of ¥20/Nm3 or less in the METI’s “Green Growth Strategy through Achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2050,” compared to the current hydrogen cost equivalent to coking coal of approx. ¥8/Nm3.

Efforts to reduce carbon emission in power generation

We generate 89% of the electricity we use at steelworks, 75% of which is from internally generated energy sources such as waste heat and by-product gases. We also use LNG, petroleum, and coal as external-source auxiliary fuels. Therefore, in order to reduce the carbon content of our electric power structure, we will eliminate all use of inefficient coal-fired power, increase efficiency of thermal power fired by by-products, and utilize CCUS. We will also consider use of non-fossil fuels for external auxiliary fuels (expanded use of zero-emission fuels such as biomass, ammonia, and hydrogen) and purchase of green power.

Issues to consider and promote reducing carbon in the electric power structure
  • Total elimination of inefficient coal-fired power
  • Increase efficiency in thermal power fired by by-products, utilization of CCUS, and use of non-fossil fuels for external auxiliary fuels (expanded use of zero-emission fuels such as biomass, ammonia, and hydrogen)
  • Purchase of green power

CCUS technology development

CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage) is a technology that separates, captures, and stores CO2 in the ground, or directly uses CO2 or converts it into other materials and utilizes it. In the carbon neutral steel production process, CCUS technology is used to process CO2 still generated from the steelmaking process even after it has been minimized. Realization of this technology requires the related technology development as well as preparation of external conditions. The required technologies include development and installment of CO2 separation and recovery technology (high-performance chemical absorption liquid) and development of CO2–based manufacturing technologies for chemicals and fuels. The necessary external conditions include the securing of the storage space, the establishment of the storage infrastructure for CCS, legislation, and tax incentives, the ensuring of business profitability of chemicals and fuels manufactured by CCU (Carbon Capture and Utilization), and preferential treatment of carbon recycled products. The Nippon Steel Group is aggressively engaged in developing these technologies to help realize social implementation of CCUS.

Nippon Steel Group’s CCUS technology development efforts


CO2 Separation and Recovery Technology
(NEDO COURSE50 Project)

Nippon Steel Engineering Co. in the Nippon Steel Group has commercialized an energy-saving CO2 chemical absorption process called ESCAP™(Energy Saving CO2 Absorption Process), which uses chemical absorption, one of the methods for CO2 separation and recovery. Two units are already in operation in Japan, including the one installed in the North Nippon Works Muroran Area.

The ESCAP™ is characterized by high energy efficiency with a more than 40% reduction in heat consumption compared to general-purpose technology. In addition, its proprietary impurity removal facility enables recovery of more than 99.9% of high-purity CO2 from raw material gas with high impurities.

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Flowsheet of ESCAP

Flowsheet of ESCAP™

Development of low–concentration CO2 separation and capture technology (subsidized by the Green Innovation Fund)

We ramped up the development of separation/capture technology for lowconcentration CO2 contained in industrial emission gases in corporation with Oita University, Osaka University, Kyoto University, Chiba University, Nagoya University, Hokkaido University, and Resonac Holdings Corporation.

To separate and capture CO2 efficiently from low–pressure, low–concentration emission gases (with a CO2 concentration not exceeding 10% at the atmospheric pressure), we will take on the development and social implementation of a new CO2 separating agent (structurally flexible PCP), which has higher CO2 selectivity than the conventional CO2 separating agent (zeolite) and enables CO2 adsorption and desorption with minimal levels of pressure operation.

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Integrated CO2 ship transportation (NEDO–commissioned project)

Jointly with Japan CCS Co., Ltd. Engineering Advancement Association of Japan, and ITOCHU Corporation, we have commenced the R&D and demonstration project related to the integrated CO2 ship transportation.


CO2 storage technology

As part of the Survey on the Implementation of Japan Advanced CCS Projects that the Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security (JOGMEC) adopted for its publicly solicited projects in fiscal 2023, Nippon Steel participates in three joint projects: the Tohoku Region West Coast CCS Project, the Metropolitan Area CCS Project, and the Oceania CCS Project. In this project, we will work jointly with each participating company to secure storage sites, develop storage infrastructure, and establish external conditions such as developing regulatory requirements. At the same time, we will take the initiative in studies related to CO2 separation/ capture, liquefaction, and shipping terminals, actively promoting the early social implementation of CCS infrastructure.

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Technology to produce chemical products from CO2 (Commissioned project by NEDO)

In April 2023, Nippon Steel, Osaka Metropolitan University, and UBE Corporation started research and development related to the “development of one–step synthesis process for polycarbonate diol from CO2.” Polycarbonate diol is a representative material for producing high–value–added carbon compounds that do not require hydrogen. It is also a raw material for high–performance polyurethanes, widely used worldwide and whose demand is expected to grow further. However, the high environmental impact of its synthesis process has been a major issue. On the other hand, this research and development aims to develop an innovative green process that effectively utilizes CO2 instead of highly toxic gases such as CO and achieves high yields in one–step synthesis.

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Absorption and fixation by marine life
(subsidized as the NEDO Project)

Develop and commercialize technology to create seaweed beds (blue carbon ecosystem) by using fertilizers made of steel slag, a by-product of steelmaking, in coastal areas.

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Our development and technological prowess

R&D staff (non-consol.) 800
atents (non-consol.) Japan14,000 Overseas16,000

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