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ArcelorMittal and LanzaTech break ground on EUR 150 million waste gas to ethanol project

After receiving the necessary environmental and construction permits earlier this month, global steel major ArcelorMittal has begun construction of new premises at its site in Ghent, Belgium, to house a pioneering new installation which will convert carbon-containing gas from its blast furnaces into ethanol. If proved successful, the new concept has the potential to revolutionise blast furnace carbon emissions capture and support the decarbonisation of the transport sector.

Flowchart over the Steelanol waste gas-to-ethanol process being built at ArcelorMittal Gent (graphic courtesy ArcelorMittal).

The project is the first installation of its kind on an industrial scale in Europe and once complete, annual production of ethanol in Ghent is expected to reach around 80 million litres, which will generate significant carbon dioxide (CO2) savings compared to fossil gasoline. Commissioning and the first production is expected by mid-2020.

We are excited that after several years of research and engineering, we are now progressing with the largest project of its kind within the ArcelorMittal group. This is the first application of a viable new business case where re-use of carbon is possible at a large scale. We will achieve significant carbon reduction and we hope that this will lead us to a lower carbon economy, said Carl De Maré, Vice President of Technology Strategy at ArcelorMittal.

ArcelorMittal is working with specialized partners in order to roll out this ethanol technology. Funding was obtained from various sources, including the European Union’s Horizon 2020 (H2020) research and innovation programme, to carry out further research and development and scale up the project.

Engineering work for the plant has been finalised and equipment based on best available technologies (BAT) was ordered in mid-2018. That equipment is expected to be delivered by summer 2019. The plant will start producing bioethanol around mid-2020 before ramping up to full production.

More than 500 temporary engineering jobs will be created during the construction phase. Once commissioned, the plant will be run by a team of around 30 people including bio-engineers, operators, and technicians.

Microbial conversion process

The technology in the gas conversion process was pioneered by US-headed biotechnology and carbon recycling process developer LanzaTech, Inc., with whom ArcelorMittal has entered a long-term partnership. The technology licensed by LanzaTech uses naturally occurring microbes that feed on carbon monoxide (CO) to produce ethanol.

It’s a very energy efficient process as microbes do all the work.The challenge is to incorporate that natural process into a large-scale, well-established industry. And we’ve done that by innovating and working with partners such as LanzaTech and Primetals Technologies, said Wim Van der Stricht, Project Coordinator.

The ethanol will be used as a transport fuel or potentially in the production of plastics. LanzaTech is involved in similar projects in China and India.

This new Carbon Smart technology illustrates ArcelorMittal’s commitment to transforming steel production and it will also further strengthen steel’s standing in the circular economy, particularly compared to other higher carbon metals like aluminium, said Carl De Maré.

From single-use to circular loop

The application of this microbial gas conversion system significantly advances ArcelorMittal’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) capabilities and enhances steel’s role in the circular economy.

ArcelorMittal’s long-term aspiration is to become a zero-waste business, with all materials used or generated during steel production recuperated, treated and reused in the production chain or becoming the raw materials for other industries.

Single-use carbon must become a thing of the past. In order to succeed in decarbonizing our economy, we will need the commitment of large companies and governments from around the world to ensure carbon reuse is part of the solution. This facility in Europe embodies the key principles of the circular economy and drives to a zero-waste steel production world. We are excited to work with ArcelorMittal and are grateful for the support of the European Commission, said Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech.

As well as ethanol, the plant will also generate heat and energy which will be reused within the plant. In the ethanol conversion process, the bacteria produce ethanol as a by-product. Biomass waste, dead bacteria, produced in the ethanol production process, is digested to produce biogas.

This will be burnt as fuel in a co-generation unit for heat and power which is reused within the ethanol plant in processes such as distillation of the ethanol.

This plant is a perfect example of the circular economy in action. A waste material from steelmaking is being converted into real-world products which are useful, valuable, and sustainable. The circular economy is critical to achieve that carbon-neutral status, but ArcelorMittal can’t do it alone. We need additional partners in this new value chain and to help close the loop, we want our customers to be a part of this innovative technology, ended Carl De Maré.

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