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Coffee to replace coal? Grounds for green substitute

  • The University of New South Wales has published three papers outlining how coffee grounds and hydrogen can replace coking coal in the steelmaking process.
  • Global steel production is forecasted to grow by more than 30% by 2050.
  • Australia’s steel sector generates $29bn in annual revenue and produces more than 5m tonnes of the iron alloy.

Those flat whites or long black coffees that millions of people drink each morning are being investigated to replace coking coal in steelmaking.

As far-fetched as this seems, the University of New South Wales has published three papers outlining how coffee grounds and hydrogen can replace coking coal (also known as metallurgical coal) in its patented ‘green steel’ technology.

The uni’s research found its Green Steel Polymer Injection Technology (PIT) could be used to produce more sustainable steel in electric arc furnaces. Plastic and coffee grounds could now potentially join a list of waste materials that can be substituted for coal as carbon sources for making steel.

While the research does not remove all coking coal from the steelmaking process, there is scope and hope that Australia could soon produce steel without coke at all.

Green steel has already been looked at by several mining giants including BHP (ASX:BHP), Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG), and Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO).

Despite the incredible research, Australia is pushing ahead with new coking coal projects for many years to come even as the nation is forging a path towards a 2050 net zero emissions target.

Global steel production is forecasted to grow by more than 30% by 2050.

Steel is the backbone of Australia’s construction, infrastructure, and manufacturing sectors and has shaped the image of the nation with its iconic bridges, motorways, and stadiums.

According to the Australian Steel Institute (ASI), the country has several steel producers, and more than 300 steel distribution outlets throughout the country in a sector that generates $29 billion in annual revenue. More than 5 million tonnes of steel is produced in Australia annually.

The coal mining industry is expected to again be significantly disrupted by the effects of COVID-19 with industry revenue falling by 31.9% in 2020-21, an IBISWorld report said.

Meanwhile, Australia’s coffee market is projected to reach a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.19% during 2022-2027. In 2020, there was a dip in the market due to the closure of coffee shops and restaurants from COVID-19 lockdowns.

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