Nov 02, 2020 07:43 PM

China’s Steel Industry Argues It’s Forging a Low-Emission Future

More than 200 iron and steel companies in China have to upgrade their plants to meet ultra-low emission targets as the sector has become the top industrial source of air pollution.
More than 200 iron and steel companies in China have to upgrade their plants to meet ultra-low emission targets as the sector has become the top industrial source of air pollution.

Hundreds of Chinese steel firms are upgrading their mills to meet strict emissions targets, a high-ranking member of a leading industry group has said, as the world’s top steel producer clamps down on its largest industrial source of air pollution.

Some 228 companies accounting for about 610 million tons of crude steel production capacity “are implementing the transformation to ultra-low emissions,” Jiang Wei, the deputy Communist Party secretary of the China Iron and Steel Association, said Friday at an industry conference.

The transition reflects government efforts to bring 60% of steel capacity in “key regions” in line with so-called “ultra-low” emissions standards by the end of this year and do the same across 80% of national capacity by 2025. China produced 996 million tons of crude steel last year, according to Jiang Jinghao, the head of an environmental bureau affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planning body.

Reforms to the power sector have left steel as China’s top contributor to air pollution, emitting 20% of its particulates — microscopic airborne particles that can endanger health — 10% of its nitrogen oxide and 7% of its sulfur dioxide, Jiang Jinghao said.

Policymakers have dangled preferential tax treatment, financial subsidies and cut-price utilities in front of steelmakers to persuade them to move away from their legacy of heavy air and water pollution and high emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases.

The government has combined those incentives with increasingly strict emissions standards. Government guidelines issued last year define steel firm emissions as “ultra-low” if they retrofit sintering machines — which heat small particles to fuse them together as a solid mass — so that their average hourly emissions do not exceed 10 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) of flue gas particulates, 35 mg/m3 of sulfur dioxide and 50 mg/m3 of nitrogen oxide.

“Other major sources” of emissions must keep hourly average concentrations of particulates below 10 mg/m3, sulfur dioxide below 50 mg/m3 and nitrogen oxide below 200 mg/m3 at least 95% of the time, the guidelines said.

China’s key steel mills used an average of 555 kilograms of standard coal to produce 1 ton of steel in 2018, down from 694 kilograms in 2005, Jiang Jinghao said at the conference.

Water consumption per ton of steel had fallen from 8.6 tons to 2.75 tons over the same period, he added, noting that some companies compete strongly with global leaders when it comes to water conservation and reuse.

Compared with 2005, Chinese steel companies emitted 84% less wastewater, 81% less sulfur dioxide and 74% less soot and dust for every ton of steel produced in 2018, he said.

However, China needs to target further breakthroughs in reducing the operating costs of environmental installations, controlling secondary pollution, and creating energy-saving and emissions-cutting technologies, the industry association’s Jiang Wei said.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh ( and editor Joshua Dummer (

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