The head of Cleveland-Cliffs sees an “era of clean steel” ahead, and its main focus will be on cutting carbon emissions as it expands production of the metal with a second major acquisition this year.
Cliffs, which on Monday said it will purchase the US operations of ArcelorMittal for $1.4-billion, plans to change the mix of raw materials going into the newly acquired blast furnaces, CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in an interview. While those furnaces typically use iron ore pellets and coking coal, the Ohio-based company will substitute hot-briquetted iron for some of the pellets, allowing them to use less coal, he said.
The push comes amid stricter emissions rules globally and demand from steel customers including automakers for supply chains that are lower in carbon emissions, which are tied to global warming. Steel production has among the world’s largest footprints, accounting for about 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, according to McKinsey & Co.
“The era of clean steel in the United States is starting right now,” Goncalves said by phone. “And another thing -- it’s not going to happen in 10 years: it’s going to start next year.”
Cliffs currently sells hot-briquetted iron to steelmakers that use electric-arc furnaces, while blast furnaces such as those from integrated producers such as Mittal usually rely on the pellet-coking coal mix. Goncalves said he doesn’t know how much the shift will cut emissions, nor exactly what the final mix will be for his steel production, but that its emissions will be lower than other producers including those in Europe and China.
Goncalves also signaled that he doesn’t anticipate layoffs in the acquisition, pointing to Cliffs’ purchase of AK Steel Holding in March, just as the coronavirus pandemic started.
“We don’t acquire to cut, we acquire to grow,” Goncalves said. “The employees at the plants love what they are seeing because they’re not only employed, they’re busier, they’re producing more and they are making more money”.