Steel/mining firm ArcelorMittal has announced the first industrial production of ethanol at its Steelanol plant, Europe’s first carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) project. It consists of four bioreactors with a total ethanol capacity of 64,000 tonnes/year.
This historic milestone was achieved recently at ArcelorMittal Belgium’s Gent plant. The first industrial-scale production is a significant step in the journey to the full commissioning of the Steelanol plant. Throughout the project, ArcelorMittal has worked with its partners carbon recycling firm LanzaTech, UK engineering firm Primetals Technologies and consultancy E4Tech.
The Steelanol plant captures carbon-rich industrial gases from steel production at ArcelorMittal Gent, and biologically converts them into ethanol using LanzaTech’s carbon biorecycling process. LanzaTech’s technology works like a brewery, but instead of yeast consuming sugar, proprietary bacteria known as a biocatalyst consume carbon gas and convert it into essential chemical building blocks such as ethanol.
The plant was officially inaugurated in December 2022, followed by cold commissioning. Afterwards, the biocatalyst was introduced into the plant (a process known as inoculation) to start the growth of the microorganisms and verify the production of new molecules. In June 2023, the first samples containing ethanol were produced in the inoculator.
Over the past few weeks, gases from the blast furnace have been safely introduced into the bioreactors. This was followed on 7th November by the first industrial production of ethanol from one of the four bioreactors. A further ramp-up of production is expected in the coming months. The plant has the capacity to produce 80 million l of advanced ethanol, almost half of the total current advanced ethanol demand for fuel mixing in Belgium. It has the potential to reduce annual carbon emissions from the Ghent plant by 125,000 tonnes.
The ethanol produced in Gent can be used as a building block for a variety of products, including sustainable transport fuels, packaging materials, clothing and even cosmetic perfumes, contributing to efforts to decarbonise the chemical sector worldwide.
In addition to working with LanzaTech, Primetals Technologies and E4Tech, ArcelorMittal has obtained funding from various sources, including the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme and the European Investment Bank, to carry out further research and development and scale up the project. The Flemish government also gave strategic environmental support via VLAIO, the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Enterprise.