BOULDER, Colo. — A Boulder startup has combined forces with industrial titans to make steel more environmentally-friendly. You're in good company with Electra.
The world produces 2-billion tons of steel a year. "You find steel everywhere," said Quoc Pham, Electra's co-founder. "Traditionally, you can find it in buildings. You can find it in cars, any bridge, or structural materials."
But, for every one ton of the metal produced, is two tons of carbon dioxide, making the industry a major contributor of harmful emissions.
"I think there has been a tipping point," said Electra co-founder Sandeep Nijhawan. "I would certainly feel that the last few years."
Their company is in its third year, lab-testing a new way to make steel and trying to scale up in a smart way. Instead of using coal and other fossil fuels to melt the metal at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, they use renewable energy like solar and wind, and a lower heating temperature, to filter out the impurities in the iron.
The technology has gained big interest from major industry investors like Amazon — a future customer, Nucor — the largest steel maker in the United States, and BHP — a leading producer of iron ore.
"There is absolutely an awareness of how steel is produced," said Nijhawan. "And now, more investment in the United States to take the lead."
Electra's technology would also make it so even lower-grade iron ore, which right now is considered unusable waste, could be filtered out for manufacturing use.
"We don't need to do more mining to get to the ore fit stock for us to use," said Pham. "It's already mined. It's there. Nobody can use it, but we can."
The end result is a 90-percent lower carbon footprint in the steel-making industry and a much more efficient use of resources.
"We don't have any background in steel making, per se," said Nijhawan. "But, we pick problems, and we pick big problems that will have a huge impact. So, I feel very good about it."