According to a new report from BloombergNEF (BNEF), steel could lose its reputation as a climate threat by using hydrogen instead of fossil fuels for half of its global production by 2050.
The steel industry could adopt hydrogen between 10% and 50% of production by mid-century, given the correct price of carbon, BNEF analysts wrote in a report.
The sector accounts for up to nine percent of global carbon emissions, according to the World Steel Association.
"Hydrogen technologies offer a viable way to reduce emissions from steelmaking," Kobad Bhavnagri, head of special projects at BNEF, said by email.
“You don't need big breakthroughs in research and development. If politics were in place, the world could start producing green steel in a decade, ”he added.
Hydrogen is an option for steelmakers facing louder calls from climate lobbyists and regulators to address their carbon problem.
It's an alternative already being tested by industry giants, including leading supplier ArcelorMittal, as well as Germany's Thyssenkrupp.
Today, steel is made from iron ore mined in a virtually unchanged process for more than 150 years.
Iron ore is first smelted with carbon-rich coke in large furnaces that emit carbon gases and produce liquid metal.
BNEF said the gases could be used in place of coke as reducing agents in an alternative process called direct reduced iron (DRI). This eliminates the blast furnace and is already used in some places with natural gas.
"Hydrogen can do everything that coal does in the steelmaking process, and the technology to make fossil-free steel is already running on natural gas in many parts of the world," Bhavnagri said.
DRI accounts for nearly six percent of steel production worldwide, according to a Citigroup report.