Tata Steel IJmuiden is seriously considering a future in which it no longer produces its own steel using iron ore. The former blast furnaces then limit themselves to smelting scrap and thus turn into a recycling company. Tata outlines this scenario in the first report of the company’s discussion meetings with locals about the company’s plans for the future.
Two years ago, Tata announced that it wanted to switch to making steel using green hydrogen instead of coal. This requires a lot of financial support, which the company is discussing with the now outgoing Cabinet. Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on Tata due to the constant disruption of steel production in the vicinity. Remarkably, Tata is now openly skeptical about the future with hydrogen.
In particular, the two coking gas plants which remove coal gas before it can be used in steel production in blast furnaces are causing inconvenience to the people living near Tata. The North Holland District Environment Department is imposing one hefty fine after another on Tata, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation into violations of environmental legislation by Tata.
Hydrogen will not solve the inconvenience in the short term
One of the problems with the Tata hydrogen track is that the direct disturbance of the surrounding area will not stop for the next ten years. The company admits that despite its efforts and investments, coking gas plants will continue to be a nuisance for about ten years. Three weeks ago, there was a big demonstration at the Tata site by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations.
The constant nuisance is making it difficult for the government to support Tata’s green future plans with €1 billion or more in tax money. The day before the big demonstration in Tata, Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Adriaansens announced that he was “strongly demanding” of Tata’s support. She also expressed concern about the inconvenience and health effects on residents.
Tata said this afternoon that “a lot has changed” since the introduction of the hydrogen plans two years ago. The company refers to the deterioration of economic market conditions, inflation, the energy crisis, the nitrogen problem and the additional climate measures taken by the Council of Ministers.
Health becomes more important to Tata
Today, the company also explicitly cites important reports from the RIVM and the Dutch Safety Board on the production’s public health risks. After the summer, Tata will provide more information on how it wants to make “green steel”. “We will be taking the topic of health more emphatically than was previously intended,” says a spokesperson.
The reason for Tata’s skepticism seems to be that the switch to expensive hydrogen will be difficult in a globally competitive steel market and that government support is not guaranteed if the nuisance continues. Moreover, Tata could no longer ignore criticism of the production’s health risks.
In addition to the transition from coal to hydrogen, the company is also studying the possibility of an electric furnace. The collected scrap must be melted into new steel. The former Koninklijke Hoogovens will then change from the largest coal user and emitter of carbon dioxide to the largest recycling plant in the Netherlands. It’s still not clear what this might mean for employment.
Unions want hydrogen
As far as the FNV trade union is concerned, the only path forward for Tata Steel is the current plan, which involves making “green” steel using green hydrogen. “We will not accept goodbyes on this road,” says FNV director Jehan Lassen. “Even an inquiry with the company itself does not give us the impression that a different path is promising.”
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