Can Steel Go Green?

Making materials like cement, plastic, glass, and steel creates a lot of emissions. In an opinion piece, Bill Gates argues any climate plan needs to grapple with these hard-to-decarbonize industries.

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September 4, 2019, 10:00 AM PDT

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark


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PROJECT_MANAGER / Flickr

The American energy sector is increasingly moving away from coal and other big emitters, while transportation's emissions continue to grow. Many plans have been written about lowering emissions from coal and oil, but what about steel?

Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates argues that the difficulty of decarbonizing the manufacture of materials like steel will be a crucial issue to tackle to fight climate change. "Making steel and other materials—such as cement, plastic, glass, aluminum, and paper—is the third biggest contributor of greenhouse gases, behind agriculture and making electricity. It’s responsible for a fifth of all emissions,” Gates argues in his website Gates Notes.

While it may be possible to reduce our dependence on some materials, they are used for good reasons. "Steel—cheap, strong, and infinitely recyclable—also goes into shingles, household appliances, canned goods, and computers. Concrete—rust-resistant, rot-proof, and non-flammable—can be made dense enough to absorb radiation or light enough to float on water," Gates writes. Gates argues that many strategies will be needed to tackle the issue, including fuel switching (many of these industries use coal), electrification, and carbon capture.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019 in Gates Notes

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