Steel and aviation sectors plot pathway to net-zero by 2050

Dozens of big-name businesses across some of the world's highest emitting and hardest to decarbonise sectors have signed up to new multi-trillion-dollar pathways for reaching net-zero by 2050.

Steel accounts for around 7% of global annual emissions, while aviation accounts for around 3%

Steel accounts for around 7% of global annual emissions, while aviation accounts for around 3%

The Mission Possible Partnership (MPP), supported financially by the Bezos Earth Fund and Breakthrough Energy, launched earlier this year in a bid to accelerate pathways for decarbonising a string of hard-to-abate sectors. It has garnered the support of almost 400 businesses, in sectors collectively representing 30% of global annual emissions.

Editor's note: The Mission Possible Partnership bears no relation to edie's Mission Possible campaign. That campaign is still ongoing and you can find out more about it, here.

Today (14 October) the MPP has published its sector-specific decarbonisation plans for steel and aviation. It has also revealed that such as plan will be published for shipping on 27 October.  

Each of the three roadmaps targets net-zero globally by 2050 at the latest. The MPP claims that all interim goals are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory.

Steel

The MPP’s sector transition strategy for steel targets net-zero by 2050, with an interim ambition to reduce annual emissions by 37% by 2030, against a 2019 baseline. It states that around $6bn of investment annually through to 2050 would be needed to transition the entire global industry in this way.

Electrification plays a key role in the roadmap, as does green hydrogen (produced using renewable electricity) as a replacement for coal. Should plan come to fruition, the sector’s annual coal demand could fall by 80-90% by mid-century, with electricity demand increasing 11-fold in the same timeframe. By 2050, green hydrogen would be responsible for 40-55% of energy demands primary steel production.

Other key changes detailed in the report include improving energy efficiency and material efficiency; scaling closed-loop materials and installing carbon capture and storage (CCS) where natural gas will still need to be used.  The roadmap outlines how, in many cases, building new steel plants away from coal mines and nearer gas and hydrogen may be better than retrofitting existing facilities. It also does not place a heavy focus on a potential bio-based replacement for coke.

Businesses endorsing the strategy include Rio Tinto, Boston Metal, ArcelorMittal, Severstal, Tata Steel, SSAB and Liberty Steel.

While stating that the businesses are keen to transform, the report is clear that further policy support will be needed. It calls for higher carbon pricing and longer-term clarity over future carbon price increases; for governments to set low-carbon requirements for public procurement; for more clarity on emissions trading systems and for emissions standards for all products.

It also floats the possibility of creating a global regulator for the sector.

ArcelorMittal’s chief executive Aditya Mittal said: “The most important message is that we can only achieve the sector’s potential with the support and engagement of the full supply chain as well as policymakers and the financial sector. I believe this sector transition strategy can be an important catalyst for harnessing the power of a multi stakeholder-approach and enabling the steel sector to achieve its full decarbonisation potential.”

Aviation

The sector transition strategy for aviation is entitled ‘Clean Skies for Tomorrow’. It entails an end to fossil jet fuel use by 2050, detailing plans for scaling up solutions including hydrogen and battery-electric aircraft as well as sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). The MPP has priced the cost of delivering its plans at $300bn annually through to 2050.

According to the strategy, SAFs could account for 25-30% of the sector’s energy demand by 2030 – up from less than 5% at present. Most of the investment detailed would need to go towards the fuel supply chain.

“In the short term, SAFs are the only viable option to decrease emissions in the aviation sector, as they are compatible with current aircraft engines and airport fuelling infrastructure and they can power flights without any limits of distance,” the report states, noting that planned efficiency improvements will only deliver a 2% improvement in energy efficiency annually through to 2030.

Hydrogen, meanwhile, is likely to scale up for aviation after 2030, according to the strategy. The MPP believes that short-haul commercial hydrogen flights are likely to begin in 2030 and long-haul in 2035. By 2050, hydrogen could account for 25% of the aviation sector’s energy demand.

A far smaller role is envisioned for battery-electric planes; the strategy states that pure-electric planes are likely to represent just 3% of the sector’s energy demand in 2050. It argues that hybrid solutions will be “crucial for enabling broader adoption” beyond small aircraft for short-distance travel.

The strategy states that residual emissions will remain in 2050, meaning that negative-emission solutions – both nature-based and man-made – will be needed. It warns that businesses should not use them “as a tool for compensating the continued use of fossil fuel”.

Heathrow Airport, London Luton Airport, Virgin Atlantic Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Airbus are among the 30 firms supporting the strategy. The publication comes days after The International Air Transport Association (IATA) supported a resolution calling for the global sector to reach net-zero by 2050. IATA, however, sees a larger role for SAFs.

Shipping

More than 150 organisations will support the MPP’s forthcoming roadmap for net-zero by 2050 in shipping, including Cargill, A.P. Moller-Maersk and the Ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam.

Few details have been released at this stage, but it has been confirmed that the strategy will set a target for 5% of the sector’s energy demand in 2030 to be met with “scalable zero-emissions fuels, most likely ammonia or methanol”. It will estimate that $2trn of investment in these fuels and related infrastructure will be needed this decade.

Future plans

The MPP has confirmed, at this stage, that carbon reduction pathways for the cement, aluminum, trucking and chemical industries will be published in early 2022.

While the roadmap for chemicals is awaited, the Partnership has launched an initiative that will enable the sharing of early-stage risks and co-investments in developing and upscaling of low-carbon-emitting technologies. It is called LCET and is supported by major players including BASF, Covestro, Dow, Mitsubishi Chemical Corp and Royal DSM.

Moves to implement the pathways on the ground will be needed rapidly. A report from MSCI this week revealed that less than 10% of the world’s publicly listed companies are aligning their business with a 1.5C temperature pathway. As such, they are likely to surpass their collective emissions budget for 1.5C within five years, increasing their emissions by 6.7% year-on-year in 2021 alone.

Sarah George



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