• Tech Tech

Startup flaunts revolutionary steel production technology that could completely change the industry: 'It's important to bring jobs back'

The facility is expected to require hundreds of jobs.

The facility is expected to require hundreds of jobs.

Photo Credit: Boston Metal

Boston Metal is promoting what could be a revolutionary steelmaking process that would provide the industry with independence from pollution-heavy blast furnaces. 

In fact, the company's molten oxide electrolysis innovation has won Fast Company's World Changing Ideas Award in the climate category.

"We're developing a solution that could fully replace the blast furnace," Adam Rauwerdink, Boston Metal's senior vice president of business development, said in a Fast Company story. 

Making steel has been a dirty process since iron started being smelted centuries ago, now contributing upward of 10% to global, planet-warming air pollution. The process includes separating ore into its core parts of iron and oxygen. The pure iron can be turned into steel. Coal-fired furnaces and cleaner electric arc furnaces dominate production, all per Fast Company, ScienceDirect, and other reports. 

Boston Metal's process is fossil-free, using renewable electricity to power electrolysis to convert ore into a steelmaking-quality metal. The simplified technique includes temperatures of around 2,912 degrees Fahrenheit and expert chemistry. A rendering of the mechanics involved shows what looks like a battery. There's an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte. When juiced up, the oxygen bubbles out and the high-quality iron can be harvested. 

But it's what's not involved that's key to the breakthrough. There's no air pollution or "other harmful byproducts" created. The method doesn't need "process water" or chemicals, either. The technique can purify ore of any grade, making it a viable option to scale. Company officials plan to commercialize the innovation by 2026, all per the startup's website.

"The one-step process is far simpler than typical smelting, and it doesn't produce any carbon by-products. When the electricity comes from renewable sources, there are no carbon emissions at all," Fast Company's Jessica Hullinger wrote. 

Global steel demand is forecast by the World Economic Forum to jump 30% by 2050. To capitalize on the market, Boston Metal has secured $282 million in funding, as well as a $50 million government grant. The latter investment will help to pay for a plant in West Virginia being built to make chromium and other metals. The facility is expected to require hundreds of jobs, all per Fast Company. 

"They're losing jobs in the steel industry, so it's important to bring jobs back to that region," Rauwerdink said in the report. 

Creating a cleaner steelmaking process is drawing attention from even Bill Gates, who is invested in a Colorado project that refines ore with much lower temperatures, similar to what is needed to heat coffee. 

If one of the methods can be scaled, reducing or eliminating 7% to 10% of the world's air pollution production, the results could be huge for the planet and its air-breathers. Government health experts call air pollution a "familiar" health hazard, particularly for lungs. Air pollution of all forms is responsible for 6.5 million deaths each year worldwide, per the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 

For its part, Boston Metal is also earning revenue by using its tech to turn mine waste into useful metals at a Brazilian facility. But the goal is to create cleaner steel, according to Fast Company. 

"Steel is the big prize," Rauwerdink said

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider