Reducing steel corrosion vital to combating climate change

Each year, the United States spends nearly a trillion dollars to combat metal corrosion, an electrochemical reaction that occurs when metals they oxidize and start to rust. Taking on this amazingly insidious issue, Researchers have now calculated how much erosion is gradually worsening global carbon emissions.

Global steel production has been rising steadily for decades – and because steel has low corrosion resistance, part of that demand is to replace steel used in building materials that have corroded over time, from bridges to cars. Reducing the amount of steel that must be replaced due to corrosion could have measurable effects on how much greenhouse gas is produced to make steel, he said. Gerald Frankelstudy co-author and professor in materials science and engineering at Ohio State University,

Although previous studies have estimated the current economic cost of erosion to be about 3 to 4% of a nation’s gross domestic product, this new study, led by Ohio State alum Mariano Iannuzzi, is the first to quantify the environmental effects associated with steel corrosion.Gerald Frankel.

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The study was rrecently published on the newspaper npj Material degradation.

“Given society’s dependence on coal fuels, iron and steel production is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases of any industry,” said Frankel. “But most of the costs associated with the industry actually come from the energy used to create steel, and that energy is lost as the steel turns back into rust, which is similar to its original iron ore form.”

The time it takes for steel to corrode is highly dependent on the severity of the environment and the composition of the alloybut this environmentally expensive issue is only getting worse, Frankel said.

Using historical carbon intensity data to estimate carbon dioxide levels by year since 1960, the researchers found that in 2021, Steel production accounted for 27% of global manufacturing sector carbon emissions and about 10.5% of total global carbon emissions worldwide. Replacement of corroded steel they represented approx 1.6 to 3.4% of emissions.

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But there is some good news, the study noted. Due to the regulations placed on the steel industry, technological advances in the steel production process have resulted in a 61% reduction in energy consumption over the past 50 years.

Despite this improvement, the study results are a call to action for policymakers and industry officials to modify and coordinate international policy on steel production and corrosion management, Frankel said.

“Coordinated international strategies, as well as reducing global steel demand, using corrosion mitigation best practices, could better improve global corrosion management strategies and drastically reduce the increase in greenhouse gas emissions we are seeing due to of repeated replacement of corroded steel. he said.

If action is not taken soon to improve steel’s carbon footprint, the study notes that greenhouse gas emissions produced by the steel industry could reach around 27.5% of the world’s total carbon emissions by 2030, with corroded steel to represent about 4 to 9% of this number. Such a result would make the goals set by Paris Agreement limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as well as US domestic climate goals are almost entirely unattainable. The study points out that management strategies such as leveraging machine learning technologies could be one of the best chances we have to reduce the Earth’s carbon dioxide levels.

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That said, if humans can’t meet these conditions, the consequences for Earth’s climate will be dire, so more people need to be aware that a low-carbon steel industry is needed to avoid such a dystopia, Frankel said. .

“Global warming is a societal challenge that requires the coordination of many interdisciplinary approaches,” Frankel said. “Our work brings to light an issue that seems to have flown under the radar in terms of the importance of adding to the problem.”


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