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« A crack in the ivory tower | Main | Renewables slump on the way »

Carbon debrief has its pants down

With the Port Talbot steelworks layoffs in the news, I was interested to see this tweet from Carbon Brief's Simon Evans this morning.



The linked article, which seeks to divert blame away from energy costs, has this rather remarkable claim:

The share of electricity in steel production costs is around 6%, according to one estimate for blast-furnace steel production, used at most major steelworks. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says energy makes up 5.2% of costs for “basic metals”, which includes steel.

Now having worked in manufacturing industry in the dim and distant past I have a bit of feel for costs, and so the figure of 6% immediate jumped out at me as being very low. A moment's further thought brought to mind a geography lesson at about age 10, when we learned that steel was made from coke and iron ore rather than electricity.

Yet the whole of the Carbon Brief article discusses electricity costs alone.

This page has a representative set of cost figures for a steel mill, suggesting that coal (from which plants like Port Talbot manufacture coke on site) is as much as 25% of total costs. It also confirms electricity costs as 6% of the total.

I think it's fair to say that the Carbon Debrief has been caught with its pants down.

Being an inquisitive kind of chap, I asked Simon Evans to explain. His reply was as follows:



Right. I'll drop a line to Richard Warren, the EEF source, to see if he wants to comment.

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Reader Comments (55)

Pants down, or pants on fire?

Jan 18, 2016 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

The only electricity intensive steel process is arc remelting of scrap in secondary and special steelmaking.

The rest of the processes are powered by coke and gas.

(Ex steelmaker)

Jan 18, 2016 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Artsgraduates !

Jan 18, 2016 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered Commenterrotationalfinestructure

I visited the massive steelworks once and understood that 20% of its output was from scrap. This would presumably be the primary use of electricity, though the works itself seen at night is a huge user of electricity in any case. They are in the process of installing a generator in any case. I stand to be corrected, but that was my understanding.

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon

There's also no accounting for energy prices on top of all the other bills including employees.

I have no problem with high energy, low value products leaving our shores for cheaper places but then nobody should be shocked by it. If the country wants some home grown industries like this then it needs to pay for them directly rather than expect other businesses to prop them up. Ministers need to be honest that closures are the result of British/EU policies and not try to pretend the companies are entirely responsible.

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Just wait for Rudd and Truss to start crowing about our reduced emissions, while failing to join the dots.

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

If only all Carbon Brief claims on energy consumption were as reliable as Volkswagen's.

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

India has a MInistry of Steel:

Tata Steel Europe

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:36 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa

I remember having a school visit to Ravenscraig in about 1967. Quite an amazing place for country boys to visit. At that time the plant produced its own coke. I remember, somewhat vague memories, that there was a plant which recovered various things from the coking process as well as the coal gas produced. I have no memory of what they did with them though.

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Primary steelmaking also uses scrap steel but 80% of Port Talbot's liquid steel is from ironmaking using coke, followed by LDAC basic steelmaking. You add the scrap at this point, using the heat from oxidation of the carbon to melt the scrap.

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

I am a bit confused. What does the word 'Factcheck' mean when used by people like Simon Evans and Leo Hickman?

Jan 18, 2016 at 11:58 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

These methods of steel production were rendered obsolete by the Linz-Donawitz process of basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS), developed in the 1950s, and other oxygen steel making methods. Basic oxygen steelmaking is superior to previous steelmaking methods because the oxygen pumped into the furnace limits impurities that previously had entered from the air used. Today, electric arc furnaces (EAF) are a common method of reprocessing scrap metal to create new steel. They can also be used for converting pig iron to steel, but they use a lot of electrical energy (about 440 kWh per metric ton), and are thus generally only economical when there is a plentiful supply of cheap electricity.

This is a complex technology that doesn't lend itself to headlines. For example, waste gasses produced in the steel manufacturing process are being used to generate electricity.

High levels of power requirement and rising energy costs represent a major challenge for the steel industry. Gases created as a ‘free’ by-product during steel production processes serve as an attractive energy source option for efficient power generation. In addition to the economic benefit, using these gases as engine fuel reduced industrial CO2 emissions and saves natural energy sources.

Jan 18, 2016 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

Steelmaking is a 2-part chemical reduction process, not electrical. Iron oxide is reduced to iron by oxidation of coal/coke Steel is made by the addition of carbon.

Jan 18, 2016 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterHector Pascal

Yet the whole of the Carbon Brief article discusses electricity costs alone.

Well, yes the CB article is a rebuttal of the claim that 'Green' taxes and Climate Change levies on electricity are a main factor in the declline of the industry, so the percentage of leccy used in steel seems to me a completely germane number.

Regardless of the relative prices in different countries, however, there’s a major problem with the argument that expensive electricity is at the heart of the UK steel industry’s problems. This is that electricity makes up a tiny share of steel production costs.

Jan 18, 2016 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Phil Clarke, are you saying that taxes on burning coal do not apply to coke making?

If so we've solved our energy problems at a stroke.
Just call all coal fired power stations "preliminary steel mills" and they are green tax free!

The UK's CO2 output is negligible for climate change purposes so that's OK.
It would be cheaper than gas.
It would keep the Chinese off our nukes.
And it would save the birds from the wind turbines.

Phil Clarke, you've hit this out of the park.

Jan 18, 2016 at 12:35 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

One US foundry melts scrap steel to produce 36 thousand tons per year. They use electric arc furnaces to melt the scrap that are like giant welders. The electric bill is around one million US$ per year.

Jan 18, 2016 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

Phil Clarke, are you saying that taxes on burning coal do not apply to coke making?

That is not what I wrote. Read the article.

Jan 18, 2016 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Phil Clarke, if the Carbon Brief article was written 'as a rebuttal', it would seem fair to conclude it is another bit of failed propaganda by the Green Blob, trying to deny liability for yet more UK job losses.

The same amount of steel will be produced elsewhere in the world using cheaper labour and power, before being transported to Europe, all done without business wrecking Green Blob interference, and more hazardous emissions.. Yet another Green Blob Hat Trick of own goals

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie


Yes, I checked to see if Port Talbot fell into the same bracket, but it doesn't.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:01 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

O/T stuff removed.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:03 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

The recently closed Teesside Works, the Scunthorpe Works and Port Talbot plant all use the Basic Oxygen Process which relies on iron from coke fired blast furnaces. The trigger for the closer of the Teesside works was the inability of the owners to pay for the coal needed for the coking plant. The last large scale Electric Arc plant in the UK was Thames Steel at Sheerness which closed in 2012.

This was in no small part due to the fact that Industrial electricity prices in the UK were almost double those in France, Germany, Spain and the USA. The Germans have been imposing rapidly rising prices on domestic users but their industrial prices are not subject to a levy to support renewables. Sheerness had been almost completely rebuilt since 2002 and was one of the most efficient and modern operations in Europe. Its now used to store cars imported by Volkswagen and Mercedes.

[BH adds: According to this Rotherham was an arc furnace.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Willshaw

In one sense Andrew and CarbonBrief are both right. BOF steel production is indeed highly energy intensive but not especially electricity intensive - and some of that electricity is typically generated on site using waste gases as fuel, reducing dependence on supplies via the grid. Electric arc is highly electro-intensive so its profitability is much more sensitive to the cost of electricity. Internationally uncompetitive electricity prices simply encourage investment in electro-intensive processes like electric arc to go elsewhere - they do nothing to reduce global emissions. EU BOF steelmakers tend to be more worried about the long term availability of carbon allowances than electricity prices, but even here marginal price disparity makes a difference. Other factors being equal, which plant would you close in a globally over-supplied market - one benefitting from competitive electricity, or one exposed to the highest industrial electricity price of any major economy?

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Nicholson

Phil Clarke

"a rebuttal of the claim that 'Green' taxes and Climate Change levies on electricity are a main factor in the declline of the industry"

So what is Greenpeace's position on steel production, using all that coal? I get the impression that Greens will only be happy when industry is defunct, with perhaps just a small works for bicycles...

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:18 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

They'll advocate we make things from hemp.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

So steelmakers in the European Union face falling prices and yet have to pay largely fixed high labour costs and increasing energy prices. As climate change policies tend to increase energy costs to what extent are they part of the problem?

For the integrated players like Redcar and Scunthorpe electricity costs are small but they do face costs on their carbon emissions via the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Nevertheless, these costs have so far been very low as a result of the free allocation of emissions permits. The real problem of ‘carbon leakage’ for them is principally the blight of uncertainty about the future price of emissions permits in the 2020s and beyond, which does have a negative impact on new investment in Europe.

Climate change policies are not, of course, the main source of the problem the UK steel sector currently faces. Energy and labour costs are high before counting in any impact from climate change policies and UK firms, particularly those producing lower grade steels are struggling to compete a price level set by cheap Chinese exports. When operating margins are very low every additional percentage in cost does hurt.  There are tipping points of bankruptcy and closure which are not easy to predict. However, uncertainty about future policy does act as blight.  There is nervousness about committing major new investment to plants in Europe when the support that energy intensive sectors (like steel) will receive post-2020 is yet to be defined.

London School of Economics.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Some basic re iron and steel.

Iron ore FeO and carbon C is heated in a blast furnace and forms iron (Fe) and carbon oxide (COn).
The picture from Port Talbot is such a blast furnace, The output, pig iron, is used as a raw materiel and requires further processing.

Molten iron, rich in carbon, is processed with oxygen to form steel, low in carbon. This procedure uses serious amounts of electric energy.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBengt Abelsson

Its not the greens - they are the political vehicle, the scapegoat.
Its UK resident banks policy to absurd global overproduction.

It is a logical move.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

jamesp and JamesG hemp bicycles? Surely bamboo for the frame, timber for the wheels and sprockets, and chains made out of the unchewable strandy string grown on the outside of celery. A useful purpose for celery may have been found at last.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Aha! Thanks Bengt

Rotherham was an electric arc furnace. The figures quoted by Carbon Brief were for a basic oxygen furnace. So electricity is the relevant figure.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:42 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Phil Clarke 1:30, do you really expect that London School of Economics article, and its author's affiliations, to be taken seriously?

Damage limitation pieces written by those who have helped cause the damage, are not unprecedented in failed Climate Science Economics, whether London Schooled or not.

Jan 18, 2016 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Phil Clarke 1:30, do you really expect that London School of Economics article, and its author's affiliations, to be taken seriously?

In what respects is the article inaccurate or its conclusions unsupported?

Or are you just going to sling mud and hope some sticks? ;-)

Jan 18, 2016 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

How steel is made step by step

For plate mills see 'Hot Rolling'

Jan 18, 2016 at 2:13 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

DECC's electricity cost comparisons for intensive users a/o September 2015 (e.g. 79.2% above EU 15 median price) make for interesting reading, no wonder they have belatedly introduced some relief:

Jan 18, 2016 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBillB

Phil Clarke, the article you refer to starts with a heading of "Structural Changes in the European Steel Sector". It then fails to mention EU legislation, and the disastrous CLIMATE CHANGE ACT. Then casually asserts that TATA Steel 'decided to mothball' UK plants. It does not mention Carbon Credit trading as being more profitable than making steel, and how the owners of TATA steel have been jolly nice to the UK Labour party, and they have been looked after as a result, with passports to more riches. The 'Hinduja passport scandal' is worth googling, I am sure Peter Mandelson and Keith Vaz would love to have their involvement given fresh publicity

After that brilliant example of not mentioning the Green elephant in the room, or its political keepers,, I lost interest. Is it worth reading on?

I wasn't seeking to throw mud, just facts and well established scandals.

Jan 18, 2016 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Then casually asserts that TATA Steel 'decided to mothball' UK plants. It does not mention Carbon Credit trading as being more profitable than making steel, and how the owners of TATA steel have been jolly nice to the UK Labour party, and they have been looked after as a result, with passports to more riches. The 'Hinduja passport scandal' is worth googling,


In reports in December 2009 we said that Tata had used the carbon trading scheme to transfer steel production from Redcar to India, pocketing £1.2 billion in carbon credits at the cost of 1700 jobs. We accept this was wrong. Redcar was mothballed because a 10-year steel contract was not honoured and the credits could never have amounted to £1.2 billion.

Apology issued by the Telegraph after promulgating misinformation from Christopher Booker, this being his stock in trade. (Other Booker retractions/apologies are available).

I stopped reading after that re-heated zombie myth, was there anything factual? What have the Hindujas to do with Tata?

Jan 18, 2016 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Energy costs TODAY will not be the only driver, the company will look at where they are going (i.e. up in the UK), and at unions threatening strike action over attempts to change their final salary pension schemes (, the UK is f******d in more than one way when it comes to smokestack manufacturing.

Jan 18, 2016 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

Both Bishop's post and Carbon Brief are confused about this complex topic and need to start again.
.. about 25 years ago I did all my electrical engineering training at the steelplant in Scunny.
- I am in Singapore and Batam right now so don't have time to do a full dissection.

#A. Bishes clanger her is to try to illustrate an entire industry by just one part of the process ie the ore to iron stage.
without talking about the iron to steel stage or the rolling mills and the preproduction stages like cokemaking.
However he takes his lead from Carbonbrief

The share of electricity in steel production costs is around 6%, according to one estimate for blast-furnace steel production, used at most major steelworks. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says energy makes up 5.2% of costs for “basic metals”, which includes steel.
(Blast-furnaces don't make steel , they make iron)

#B. The Carbon Brief article has a number of other mis-understandings and contradictions.

#1. That article comes up as having 7 comments yet, when you click you see now that comments are now switched off and all comments have been deleted
#2 Strawman #1 : "Yet some commentators have also pointed the finger at UK electricity prices."
The difference between a UK and Chinese steel plant is not just in the electric prices, but in all energy costs and laws like the Carbon floor price etc.

#3 Strawman #2 "plunging global steel prices" This focus is misleading as the steel industry doesn't just sell raw steel. Indeed one of the 3 plants talked about doesn't make steel. Caparo is a rolling mills operation it buys steels in and processes it and sells it on.
We used to compete on having better technology to produce better steel that China.

#4 \\For “extra large” industry, which probably includes the steel sector, the UK does have relatively high electricity costs, though not the highest in the EU.//
- Cyprus is the only higher one //guess how many steel mills they have ! (in the other chart it's Italy.

#5 However steelplants get some of their electricity from their own power stations.

#6 Germany VS UK comparison \\The data is somewhat at odds with the claim that UK costs are “twice” those in Germany //
The second chart shows UK electricity at twice the cost of UK's

I cannot answer what the energy cost for the steel industry's complex.
Stocksbridge (Rotherham) is an example of high electricity use since it uses electric arc furnaces.
Tata might be reluctant to give facts due to it being the process of trying to sell off UK operations
..after making easy money in the years when it got generous carbon credits.

Jan 18, 2016 at 3:55 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Tata Steel to Cut 1,050 U.K. Jobs as Steel Crisis Deepens

LONDON— Tata Steel Ltd. said on Monday it is to cut a further 1,050 jobs from its U.K. operations, and joined other steelmakers around the world in urging governments to do more to stem the tide of cheap steel from China.
[ ... ]
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized that the industry faces challenges that are part of a broader global problem and said: “We have taken action to help the steel industry, working with them on some of the key steps they thought could be taken, for example on looking at how to cut energy costs, taking action on imports, introducing new measures on government procurement, and working at the EU level.”

Chinese steel shipments into the EU have doubled over the past ​two years while steel prices have collapsed by about 40%, ​according to data from International Steel Statistics Bureau.

Like most big important problems and industries, this one is complex and doesn't lend itself to headline solutions.

Jan 18, 2016 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

The Carbon Floor Price - note that GWPF already put out info re the UK Steel industry

#7 Germany VS UK comparison for ENERGY
- The situation is somewhat fluid. EU's approved of German steelmakers getting a energy subsidy by being forgiven some green taxes which has been happening for a long time.
- A similar policy in the UK has not been happening, but should kick in soon. Telegraph Dec 17 2015
"The state aid is expected to cover between 60pc and 70pc of the industry's green taxes, cutting the sector’s overall power bill by about £3.9m a month"

There was a warning in 2011

Karl-Ulrich Köhler, the managing director and chief executive of Tata Steel’s European operations, one of the UK’s largest manufacturers, said the carbon floor price represented “a potentially severe blow to the sustainability of UK steelmaking”.

“The [carbon price floor] proposal will impose additional unilateral emission costs specifically on the UK steel industry by seeking to artificially ensure that these costs cannot fall below government-set targets which no other European country will enforce,” he said. FT 2011

Jan 18, 2016 at 4:04 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Lets roll with CB's figs even tho they could be massive underestimate
\\Can policy costs, making up maybe 1-2% of steel production costs, really be responsible for the current crisis in the industry?//

If customers don't buy your product cos it's 1-2% more than your competitors ... can that lead to you closing plant ?

Yep if your plant costs $millions to run per hour, you will close it.
Have plants closed ?
...yes they have.... 1-2% could have made all the difference.

Jan 18, 2016 at 4:14 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Relevant quote from the middle of today's article in the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph

"Even now, promised compensation for energy intensive industries is yet to be received."
David Cameron's family thru his father in-law does RECEIVE 1,000 pounds per day due to the wind turbines standing in front of Scunthorpe steelworks (Bagmoor)

The BBC has 3 pages on today's story
- Tata Steel confirms 1,050 job cuts
- Live Coverage
- Background : Britain's steel industry: What's going wrong?."

"High energy costs for energy-intensive businesses like steel production are also a factor, says the industry, added to by the extra cost of climate change policies. UK Steel, the industry body, says government policies to compensate steel companies for these extra costs have been coming in too slowly.".

"UK steelmakers have also blamed high energy costs, green taxes and the strong pound for their difficulties, saying that compared to foreign competitors the cost of making steel in the UK is too high."

Jan 18, 2016 at 4:22 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

oops #6 The CB second chart shows
Italy's electricity at twice the cost of Germany's

Jan 18, 2016 at 4:35 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

British energy trends third quarter 2015 vs third quarter 2014.
Supply and use of fuels.
Coke : -46 .3 %
Blast furnaces : -22.5 %

Coke use had already declined by 25% in 2014

Its a tiny component of total transformation
2014 total transformation (ttoe)
Electricity transformation : 39,492
Coke manufacture : 334
Blast furnace : 2,379

Its over.

Jan 18, 2016 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

Most folk would I suspect assume (wrongly) that the single market would go some way towards creating a level electricity market across the EU - I'm ignorant of the detail - but it seems not unreasonable to think that the carbon trading scam does follow an EU wide set of metrics which allows exploitation / gaming of the differences between states and it's clear that the bureaucrats in The Berlaymont supposedly charged with limiting absurd + damaging impacts where they can - either can't be arsed or are entirely happy to damage member states economies..... in cahoots with the Green Blob.

btw - Are we supposed to take Gadaffi - Grantham Institute seriously?

Jan 18, 2016 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered Commentertomo

The economy is not a monster to be fed.
That is a Maoist pig Iron view of the economy

The UK via clever use of its resident banks has gamed the system to perfection.
The fact is the world is owned by the UK.
It has managed to entrap its jurisdictions in foreign currency loans.
They must devalue and export their physical wealth at ever increasing speeds.

Jan 18, 2016 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

Phil Clarke, have you checked your linked story for accidental/intentional inaccuracy?

Jan 18, 2016 at 5:53 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

This is what's supposed to happen, by design. The greens and their political supporters don't want there to be a steel industry in this country. China is about as close as they are comfortable with both a steel industry and their own hypocrisy, unless it also happens to be where they go on vacation. They also don't want a chemical industry either. There are other industries on the list.

This is not news. It is ingrained in British culture, Arts-education, and the BBC.

Jan 18, 2016 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Isn't the price of CO2 offsets a greater problem than electricity?

On average making a metric ton of steel requires emitting 2 tons of CO2; most sources don't bother specifying but I assume this to be the actual CO2 emitted from burning gas, coal or whatever onsite, not from electricity generation (which in any case would have much smaller emissions).

Offsets go for 7€ or 5 pounds. So that's an additional 10 pounds per ton. And currently UK steel is going for about a 120 pounds per ton. Notice also that while this is the current offset price, for several years it was much higher.

Of course this affects everybody in the EU and not just the UK.

Jan 18, 2016 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlberto Zaragoza Comendador

tomo, the London School of Economics provided a credible education for GoDaffy's son. GoDaffy, his money, and his son have done wonders for the LSE's credibility on the world stage. The power of greed and money is a noted LSE subject of expertise.

Jan 18, 2016 at 10:05 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Steel making in China results in the release of 2 to 3 times more CO2 than the same process carried out in Australia.

....and polypropylene, by the way, releases 18 times more CO2 in China based manufacturing.

Refs later... I'm on a boat. ..

Jan 19, 2016 at 2:13 AM | Unregistered Commentermarkx

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