Posts with «basic materials industry» label

Russia captures hacker likely responsible for Colonial Pipeline cyberattack

The hacker behind the ransomware attack that took down the Colonial Pipeline last year has been apprehended by Russian authorities, according to US officials.

Russia’s FSB intelligence agency said Friday that 14 people associated with the REvil ransomware group had been arrested, according toThe Wall Street Journal. The group has taken responsibility for numerous cyberattacks in the US. Officials in the US believe the hacker behind the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline last spring was among those arrested, according to an unnamed administration official who spoke to CNN.

Last year’s cyberattack, which was attributed to a ransomware gang, caused a significant disruption to the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies nearly half of the fuel for the entire east coast of the US. The temporary shutdown of the pipeline incited mass panic buying at gas stations in and around the east coast of the US, which resulted in shortages in at least 11 states.

As CNN notes, the arrest comes after a week of diplomatic talks between the United States and Russia regarding Russia’s buildup of troops near the border with Ukraine. The Biden official told the network that it believes the arrest was “not related” to the situation. But some analysts have suggested otherwise, noting that this is the first first US investigation Russia has cooperated on in eight years.

We can make the steel of tomorrow without the fossil fuels of yesteryear

The modern world has grown around steel bones — everything from tools and home appliances to skyscrapers and airplanes use the versatile material in their construction. But the process of making steel is a significant contributor to global warming and climate change. In 2018, reportedly every ton of steel produced generated 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for about 7 percent of global CO2 emissions that year. This poses not just environmental challenges for our ever increasing world, it could also impact steel producers’ bottom line, which is why the industry is developing a “fossil-free” means of making the alloy, one that relies on renewable-sourced hydrogen rather than carbon coke.

Steel is an alloy composed of iron, which in its pure form is relatively soft, with a small amount of introduced carbon, usually about 2 percent of its total weight. This improves the material’s strength and reduces its propensity for fracturing. The process starts by combining iron ore, before coking coal and limestone (which remove impurities) in a blast furnace to create pig iron.

That molten pig iron is then poured into a furnace and high pressure air is introduced via a water-cooled lance. The oxygen chemically reacts with the molten iron to purge impurities — as well as produce significant amounts of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The oxygen also forces impurities like silicates and phosphates present in the pig iron to react with limestone flux, trapping them as waste slag. Today, per the World Steel Association, some 1,864 million metric tons of crude steel are produced annually with China producing a vast majority of it.

While the WSA points out that “in the last 50 years, the steel industry has reduced its energy consumption per tonne of steel produced by 60 percent” and notes that steel is infinitely reusable, and that “new” steel typically contain 30percent recycled steel on average the traditional methods of iron and steel production are becoming untenable — at least if we want to mitigate its impacts on climate change. What’s more, the International Energy Agency estimates that global steel production will grow by a third by 2050, which will only compound the industry’s environmental impacts. That’s where fossil-free steel comes in.

Take HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology), for example. This process has been developed as a joint venture between three Swedish companies: SSAB, which makes steel, energy company Vattenfall, and LKAB, which mines iron ore. Rather than using coking coal and a blast furnace to convert raw iron ore into metallic iron, the HYBRIT method uses hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources and a technique known as direct reduction, which lowers the amount of oxygen contained within the ore without heating it above the metal’s melting point, to create sponge iron.


Like pig iron, sponge iron is an intermediary material in the steelmaking process (it’ll get shipped off to SSAB to be turned into steel slabs), but in HYBRIT’s case, its production results in the creation of water vapor rather than carbon dioxide.

“The first fossil-free steel in the world is not only a breakthrough for SSAB, it represents proof that it’s possible to make the transition and significantly reduce the global carbon footprint of the steel industry,” Martin Lindqvist, CEO of SSAB, told reporters in August. “We hope that this will inspire others to also want to speed up the green transition.”

The HYBRIT coalition opened a pilot direct reduction plant in Luleå, Sweden last year and has announced plans to increase production to an industrial scale by 2026. The team claims that eliminating fossil fuels from the steelmaking industry in Sweden could drop the country’s total CO2 emissions by at least 10 percent. However, they are not the only group looking into fossil-free steel production. The H2 Green Steel company has announced its intent to open a large-scale plant in northern Sweden by 2024 and expects to produce 5 million tonnes of the material annually by 2030.

In June, Volvo announced that it would be partnering with SSAB to develop fossil-free steel for use in its products — both passenger cars and industrial machines. Last week, Volvo unveiled the first vehicle to be made with fossil-free steel, an 8-plus ton load carrier designed to operate within mines. Not only is the load carrier powered by a fully electric drivetrain, it can autonomously navigate across a worksite as well. Granted only about 3 of the vehicle’s 8 tons were made from fossil-free steel (the drivetrain’s steel components, for example, were made through traditional smelting means), this marks an important first step towards a carbon-neutral transportation future.

“When we have been talking about ‘fossil free’ in the transport sector, we have been focusing a lot on emissions from the vehicles in use. But it's clear to us and to everyone else that we also need to address the carbon footprint from the production of our vehicles,” Volvo Group’s Chief Technology Officer Lars Stenqvist told Forbes. “That's why it's so important now to team up with everyone in the value chain and collaborate in order to drive out all the fossil fuel also used in the production of components, parts and also running our production facilities.”

Volvo expects the autonomous load carriers to enter real-world operation by next year, though the company concedes that its ability to ramp up production of fossil-free vehicles will depend largely on SSAB’s ability to deliver sufficient quantities of the material.

The largest direct carbon capture plant is now making a small impact on emissions

The world's largest direct-air carbon capture plant is up and running, although you might want to keep your expectations in check. Bloombergreports Climeworks has started operations for Orca, a plant in Iceland that grabs CO2 from the air, storing it underground and using a Carbfix solution to mix the chemical with water and (in two years) trap it in stone. The facility will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 per year, and it's 'permanently' removed from the environment, not recycled.

A carbon offset isn't a trivial purchase. It currently costs $600 per ton for bulk requests, and as high as $1,200 for eco-friendly individuals. Climeworks hopes to shrink the cost to $300 or less per ton by 2030 as it ramps up its overall capacity.

While Orca represents an important milestone for actively reducing humanity's carbon footprint, it's not much to brag about at this stage — if anything, it reveals just how far the technology has to go. That 4,000 tons of capture is equal to just 250 US residents, half the total capture output in the world, and nowhere near matching Climeworks' initial plan to capture 300 million tons (1 percent of the world's emissions) by 2025. The company now expects to reach 500,000 tons per year by 2030.

There are still reasons to be optimistic. Demand is very high, according to Climeworks, to the point where the company plans to expand Orca tenfold in the next three years. Lower carbon reduction prices could also accelerate adoption by tempting companies that would otherwise pay penalties when they can't meet emissions targets. This won't be a true substitute for reducing CO2 output, but it could help mitigate the impact in the short term.