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article imageGreen steel- lower emissions, better land management

By Paul Wallis     Jul 22, 2007 in Environment
A new method of coking using “char”, from an Australian tree, the Oil Mallee, other hardwoods and even farm and building wastes, is showing signs of dealing with the old stereotype of pollution-belching steel mills.
That matters in Australia. Other countries produce nice dinner sets, we produce steel for China and Japan.
For once, a holistic approach to use of tree fuels is showing some forward thinking being done. Rotational harvesting of plantation timbers is proposed to avoid deforestation, and using the trees as simultaneous land management for salinity, erosion, and other perennial horrors. Importantly, the trees can also function for protection of native flora and animal habitat. Rotational harvesting reduces the impact on forests, using only selected trees at a given point in their life cycle. (Older trees yield more char, so they can’t be harvested on volumes like pine plantations.)
The process, using charcoal rather than coal or coke, is said to balance greenhouse emissions and “drastically” reduce noxious gases produced in steel production. Economically, the method might work out well, given the demand for coal, and its rising price.
The word “Sustainable”, in practice, isn’t a form of mouthwash for environmentalists or economists. There are important principles involved, and some serious consequences if industrial efficiency and cost structures don’t get out of the slash-and-burn approach to use of resources. The risk is that costs will get blown out of the water if shortages create the sort of spikes oil has proved itself capable of making on the merest whiff of a shortfall in supplies.
The kind of long term thinking required for green resources doesn’t quite match the market mentality trying to make a million or so per second on commodities. Sooner or later, there’s not going to be much choice.
More about Steel, Environment, Coal