Cleaning China 'Dirty' Steel
鋼鐵在 AEC 行業中發揮著非常重要的作用。 2019 年，僅建築和基礎設施一項就佔全球鋼鐵總產量的 52%，預計到 2025 年，該行業的市場價值將達到 14 萬億美元。僅在美國，即使在非住宅領域，鋼鐵也佔 46%。和多層建築。隨著地球人口每年快速增長——尤其是在人口稠密的大都市，住房問題非常嚴重。建築師經常被迫探索微型生活和智能建築的新可能性。
配備高端技術的基礎設施的發展增加了鋼鐵作為建築行業主要材料的重要性。鋼鐵通常被認為是更實惠、更容易獲得的解決方案，它已成為增長最快的材料行業。它具有建築所需的強度和耐用性以及完美的可回收性，在建築的整個生命週期內促進了高環保性能。它也被認為是一種更節能的建築解決方案，非常適合實現碳中和建築。然而，在所有這些好處和重要作用發揮作用的同時，需要解決的是鋼鐵行業約佔世界碳產量的 11%。目前，中國是鋼鐵的主要生產國，佔全球鋼鐵產量的比例高達52%。它在該行業經歷了巨大的增長，從 2004 年在世界十大鋼鐵生產商中只有一家中國公司，發展到擁有六家世界最大鋼鐵生產商。其中一些公司通過貸款和補貼獲得政府支持，使鋼鐵行業蓬勃發展，並以比其他國家更低的價格銷售商品。該國鋼鐵行業的鋼鐵產量幾乎是其主要競爭對手印度的七倍。這種過多的數量意味著中國鋼鐵生產過剩，他們需要出口以維持收入。
中國鋼鐵行業長期以來一直是全球市場的爭議焦點。中國是世界上二氧化碳排放率最高的國家，鋼鐵行業佔該國總碳排放量的 20%。由於生產過程的對比，該行業排放的二氧化碳量是美國的兩倍。雖然超過 70% 的美國製造鋼是在利用廢鋼材料的電弧爐 (EAF) 中生產的，但中國工廠仍在使用燃煤爐來冶煉鐵礦石。這又一次成功地降低了生產成本，允許使用更便宜的鋼材。
美國和歐盟立即意識到了這個問題，因為中國廉價的鋼鐵價格使其難以在全球市場上競爭。更環保的做法導致鋼材價格上漲，客戶需求減少，一旦滾雪球，將危及美國和歐盟鋼鐵廠的連續性及其員工的生計。當世界上最大的鎳儲備國印度尼西亞決定在 2020 年初禁止鎳出口時，問題變得更加嚴重。鎳是鋼鐵生產的重要組成部分，佔世界鎳供應量的三分之二以上。這一禁令有效地推高了鎳價，造成鎳供應短缺。儘管如此，其中一家中資不銹鋼公司並未受到影響。 Tsinghan 是一家政府支持的公司，在印度尼西亞擁有一項鎳計劃，使他們能夠在出口禁令期間完全獲得鎳供應。雖然中國的“臟”鋼極具爭議，但完全禁止它們可能會導致西方出現短缺並進一步推高鋼價。
2021 年 10 月，中國政府終於通過了有關鋼鐵廠減少消費的規定。作為世界上最大的鋼鐵生產國，該國已同意限制其鋼鐵產量，確保2021年的產量不應高於2020年的10.65億噸。擁有高爐的鋼廠被迫減產根據他們的排放水平，而擁有電爐的工廠被允許採取自願行動來減少排放。中國已承諾到 2025 年減少其碳足跡並達到最大碳排放量。然而，在 2022 年 2 月，中國最近宣布將限製到 2030 年，聲稱可能需要延長五年，因為預計減排工作需要更多時間。無論如何，一些公司仍然聲稱他們將在 2025 年達到碳峰值，有些公司甚至提出了更早的目標，將其設定為 2023 年。一些公司因延期而質疑政府在 2030 年之前實現碳峰值的承諾，但蘭格鋼鐵信息研究中心對這一消息表示熱烈歡迎，稱新指南為鋼廠如何逐步降低碳水平並實現綠色目標提供了更好、更實用的指南，從而實現更平穩和有計劃的過渡。
Steel has a very important role to play in the AEC industry. Buildings and infrastructure alone used up to 52% of the world’s total steel production in 2019 and the market value for the sector is expected to reach USD 14 trillion by 2025. In the US alone, steel accounted for 46% even in the non-residential and multi-story buildings. With the earth's population growing rapidly each year — especially in the dense metropolitan cities, housing problems are significant. Architects are often forced to explore new possibilities with micro-living and smart buildings.
Developments of infrastructure that are equipped with high-end technology have increased the importance of steel as the main material in the building sectors. Often considered to be the more affordable and accessible solution, steel has become the fastest-growing material sector. It has the strength and durability needed for the construction and perfect recyclability, promoting a high environmental performance over the building’s life cycle. It has also been considered as a construction solution that is more energy-efficient and a good fit to achieve a carbon-neutral building.
However, with all these benefits and important roles to play, it needs to be addressed that the steel industry accounts for approximately eleven percent of the world's carbon production. Currently, China is the main producer of steel, accounting for up to 52% of the global steel production. It has experienced huge growth in the sector, growing from having only one China-based company in the world's top ten steel producers in 2004, to having six of the world's largest steel producers. Some of these companies receive government support through loans and subsidies, allowing the steel sector to thrive and sell their commodities at lower prices compared to other countries. The country’s steel sector produced almost seven times more steel than its main competitor, India. This excessive amount means that China has an overproduction of steel and they need to export in order to maintain revenue.
China’s steel industry has long been a controversy in the global market. China has the highest carbon dioxide emission rates in the world, with the steel industry being responsible for up to 20% of the country’s overall carbon emissions. The industry emits twice the amount of carbon dioxide compared to those in the US due to the contrast in their production process. While more than 70% of American-made steel is produced in electric-arc furnaces (EAF) that take advantage of scrap steel material, the Chinese plants are still using coal-fueled furnaces to smelt iron ore. This again, successfully drive down the cost of production, allowing for cheaper steel.
The US and the EU realized the problem immediately as the cheap China steel price makes it difficult for them to compete in the global market. The more environmentally friendly approaches resulted in a higher steel price and less demand from customers, which when snowballed would risk the continuity of the steel plants in the US and EU and their employees' livelihood. The problem deepen when Indonesia — the world’s largest nickel reservation, decided to ban nickel export at the beginning of 2020. Nickel is an important component in steel production, accounting for the use of more than two-thirds of the world’s nickel supply. This ban effectively catapults the price of nickel, creating shortages of nickel supply. Still, one of the China-owned stainless steel firms was not impacted. Tsinghan — a government-supported company, owns a nickel plan in Indonesia, giving them full access to the nickel supply amid the export ban. While China ‘dirty’ steel is extremely controversial, banning them entirely might cause shortages in the west and raise the steel price even more.
The US, along with the EU and Japan later agreed on trilateral negotiations called Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity. The alliance is created to pressurize the Chinese government regarding their subsidies towards the steel sector. The EU later decide to officially announce their carbon border tax levy to restrict market access for carbon-intensive products, by charging foreign competitors with ‘dirtier goods’ compared to those produced within the EU. Another EU tariff deal was also implemented, preventing China’s steel to be passed as EU products by enforcing that ‘the steel that EU steel exports need to be melted and poured within the EU region.’ This further limits China’s access to the steel market in the EU and the US.
In October 2021, China’s government finally passed on regulations for their steel mills to cut down on their consumption. As the biggest steel producer in the world, the country has agreed to limit its steel output by making sure that the output in 2021 should be no higher than the 1.065 billion tones produced in 2020. Mills with blast furnaces are forced to cut down their production based on their emission levels while mills with electric furnaces are allowed to take voluntary actions to reduce their emissions. China has vowed to reduce its carbon footprint and reach maximum carbon emission by 2025.
Yet in February 2022, China has recently announced that they will push their limits to 2030, claiming that the five years extension might be necessary as reduction efforts are expected to take more time. Regardless, some companies still claim that they will reach their carbon peak in 2025, and some even put earlier goals, setting it for 2023. Some have questioned the government's commitment to achieving the carbon peak before 2030 due to this extension, but the director of Lange Steel Information Research Center warmly welcomed the news claiming that the new guidelines provide better and more practical guidelines on how steel mills can gradually decrease their carbon levels and meet the green target, allowing for a smoother and planned transition.
Regulating the ‘greener’ production and distribution of steel would perhaps take a few years to achieve. Shifting mills' coal-based production into electric furnaces and using recycled steel will be the initial step to clean the ‘dirty’ industry. ‘Cleaning’ this material sector would open great potential for the building and infrastructure industry as it gives buildings a lower carbon net to begin with, along with the steel itself as a more energy-efficient and carbon-effective material, further allowing for faster achievement of the net-zero buildings.
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About the Author
Xaveria Livienna is a freelance writer and researcher for the Taiwan Architecture and Building Center, currently pursuing an MBA degree in National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. Her main interests revolve around digital and content marketing, as well as CSR and sustainability.
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