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Local Steel Experts Say US Steel's Decision To Drop $1.5 Billion Mon Valley Project Makes Sense

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - On Friday, U.S. Steel announced that it is abandoning its $1.5 billion project to upgrade its steelmaking in the Mon Valley.

Local experts think this could be part of the company's pledge earlier this month to go carbon free by 2050.

"It does produce a lot of CO2 though," explains Professor Christ Pistorius, co-director of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Iron and Steelmaking Research.

"To make one ton of steel, you produce almost two tons of CO2 in the process," Pistorius told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of making steel in a blast furnace that uses coke from coal. But it's not the only way to make steel. U.S. Steel recently bought Big River Steel in Arkansas that uses an electric arc furnace, instead of a blast furnace.

"It is one of the nation's newest steel production plants," says Ron Ashburn, executive director of the Association for Iron and Steel Technology.

Environmentally, the electric arc furnace emits less pollution than the blast furnace.

"There is a 30-fold reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and a six-fold reduction in the energy consumed," says Ashburn.

Pistorius says he is not surprised the company dropped plans to upgrade its blast furnaces here.

"It is in line with the U.S. Steel aim of going carbon neutral at quite an ambitious pace by 2050, essentially being carbon neutral. That will require a big change," says the CMU professor.

What does that mean for the Mon Valley?

Ashburn says U.S. Steel's announcement that it will shut down three coke batteries in Clairton makes sense.

"In 1990, we had 57 blast furnaces operating in the United States. Today in 2021, there are 15."

As for the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, U.S. Steel said it was "committed to steelmaking in the Mon Valley for the next generation."

Whether it remains a blast furnace or gets converted to an electric arc furnace, Ashburn says, "I have a high amount of optimism that the Mon Valley Works can and will be an economic powerhouse."

Steel supporters say to keep the mills up and running Congress should pass some version of President Biden's infrastructure plan, as it will take a lot of steel to rebuild America's roads and bridges.

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