US: Federal buy clean rules could strategically decarbonize steel

(ACEEE blog, 8 May 2023) As the Biden administration rolls out billions of dollars in new infrastructure investments, it is navigating a congressional requirement to use domestically sourced, lower-carbon construction materials.

The General Services Administration (GSA)—which is soon expected to issue purchasing specifications for steel as part of the mandate—now has a critical opportunity to steer the program strategically to maximize its long-term climate impact.

Members of the federal Buy Clean Task Force—including the Environmental Protection Agency, GSA, and the Transportation Department—are helping develop sound “buy clean” criteria for construction materials, including steel. Success is critical because the iron and steel industry accounts for 7% of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. The “buy clean” rules for steel will need to balance the opportunity of using limited scrap-based steel while supporting domestic primary steel production in a manner geared toward spurring manufacturers to green the industry.

A low-carbon transition is on the horizon in U.S. steel production

The United States already leads the world in clean steel, using scrap for more than two-thirds of production (the highest share of scrap used in any domestic market). This secondary steel is typically better for the climate than primary steel because it is made using an electric arc furnace (EAF) supplied primarily with scrap steel, instead of a carbon-intensive blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) system that converts iron ore into iron (a major source of GHG emissions) and then into steel.

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ACEEE blog, 8 May 2023: US: Federal buy clean rules could strategically decarbonize steel