Decarbonising primary steel production in Romania

The decarbonisation of primary steel production is one of the most pressing challenges for the future of Romania’s industry. A highly carbon-intensive process, conventional primary steelmaking faces increasing pressure to transform in the context of the EU’s climate commitments: a phase-out of free allocation under the EU Emissions Trading System, upcoming regulations on sustainable products, and a rapidly rising carbon price. This pressure is insufficiently recognised in Romania’s industrial and climate strategies: its Long-Term Strategy, draft National Energy and Climate Plan, and draft national Industrial Strategy all fail to account for the scale of the transformation challenge and the associated opportunities for green steelmaking.

While Romania’s steel sector has shrunk since 1990, it still contributes significantly to the national economy and employment, and emits approx. 6.3% of total national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. These contributions are centred on Liberty Galați, Romania’s only remaining primary steel producer, which employed nearly 5,000 people in and emitted 4.39 mega-tonnes (Mt) of CO2 (5.9% of Romania’s total CO2 emissions) in 2021. It is a major contributor to economic activity in the Galați county, a Just Transition region, and is an essential part of any attempt to revive Romania’s upstream manufacturing sector and any ambition to supply domestic and foreign downstream sectors, such as the auto industry, with high-quality, low-carbon steel.

The main pathway to deeply decarbonise conventional primary steelmaking is conversion of the conventional blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) process to the direct reduction of iron, coupled with melting in electric arc furnaces (DRI-EAF). To achieve deep decarbonisation, the DRI process must use low-carbon hydrogen as a reducing agent, and the whole steelmaking process must be supplied by renewable electricity. Transitioning from BF-BOF to hydrogen-based DRI-EAF production will shift the fuel mix of primary steelmaking from fossil-based to using primarily electricity and hydrogen, and will change raw material requirements, including an increased consumption of scrap steel. Other decarbonisation pathways include a complete conversion to secondary steel production (using scrap steel or imported green iron) or carbon capture, all with their own challenges.

Liberty Galați has publicly announced a decarbonisation pathway involving a conversion from BF-BOF to DRI-EAF, using natural gas as a transitional DRI agent and fully switching to renewable hydrogen by 2030. This deep decarbonisation plan (the “GREENSTEEL plan”) will accompany a doubling in production, reaching 4.1 Mt of liquid steel by 2030. According to our estimates, executing the GREENSTEEL plan could slash emissions from the production of liquid steel (responsible for 81% of emissions in primary steel production) by 93% by 2030, a reduction of 3.26 Mt CO2 per year. This could give Liberty Galați a significant competitive edge as a green steel supplier, meeting increasing demand from downstream sectors such as the auto industry. It could also spur a local green economy, including for the production of renewable electricity and hydrogen to supply the DRI-EAF pathway, which will consume over 160,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year.

To truly achieve deep decarbonisation, the transformation of Liberty Galați under the GREENSTEEL plan will require a massive mobilisation to deploy renewable energy capacities, invest in renewable hydrogen production, and secure a reliable supply of scrap steel. Electricity consumption of the steelmaking process alone would increase ten-fold, and even if hydrogen production is outsourced abroad, meeting the target specific emissions of the GREENSTEEL plan will require the carbon intensity of Romania’s electricity grid to halve. Using domestically-produced renewable hydrogen will require an additional 6.35 GW of renewable electricity capacity, 136% of Romania’s total installed wind and solar energy in January 2024. The renewable hydrogen requirement of Liberty Galați in 2030 would be more than currently stipulated in Romania’s national Hydrogen Strategy for the entire Romanian economy, and scrap steel consumption would increase four-fold, amounting to 80% of Romania’s current scrap exports. The investment cost of the transformation itself, including the operating costs of using renewable hydrogen, will likely require state support both directly and indirectly to increase investment certainty.

If Romania’s primary steelmaking is to spearhead industrial transformation and revive the competitiveness of manufacturing, urgent action must be taken to provide concrete, detailed transformation plans which are accounted for in national industrial and climate strategies. Targeted and carefully sized public financing instruments, including Green Public Procurement and Carbon Contracts for Difference, will be essential to meet upfront investment costs, especially in the coming decade as industrial operators begin to strain under increasing carbon prices. Infrastructure development will also be crucial, most importantly the deployment of renewable electricity capacities, strengthening of Romania’s national electricity grid, installation of electrolysers and construction of hydrogen transport infrastructure. New supply chains for raw materials will also be needed, particularly a rethinking of Romania’s export-oriented scrap steel sector. These actions will be necessary regardless how Liberty Galați decarbonises and require a shift in the approach of policymakers to the challenges of Romania’s industrial transformation.

A correction was made to this report on 14/03/2024. The increase in direct electricity consumption quoted in the Conclusions and Recommendations section (page 33) was corrected to 1,000%.

A further correction was made to this report on 03/06/2024. Figure 4 (page 17), Table 5 (page 16), and Table 4 (page 15) were updated with small corrections to the values for electricity and natural gas consumption.

luciana miu - epg
Luciana Miu, EPG Head of Clean Economy

Luciana Miu is the Head of Clean Economy at Energy Policy Group. She holds a Master’s degree in Sustainable Energy Systems from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Energy Efficiency of Residential Buildings from the Imperial College London. Before joining EPG, Luciana worked for the UK Parliament and for the British Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), as well as a consultant for Climate-KIC and London City Hall.


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