Boston Metal, a MIT spin-out steel company, has recently created their first batch of the high-strength alloy, with a new, environmentally friendly method. This new technology is predicted to be extremely cheap by the company’s founders, allowing the production of steel to be cheaper and healthier for the environment.
The steel industry has been considered one of the hardest to “clean” in terms of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the largest industrial source of climate pollution. This is because our world is so dependent on steel, and we continue to make it because we need it, even if it pollutes the environment.
“Cars, buildings, and bridges are all pretty well dependent on having steel,” says Steven Davis, lead author of that study and an earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine. “So unless we change that—and there’s no sign we are—we need to figure out a way to decarbonize the process.”
Even without taking the fuels into consideration, the steel industry pumps nearly 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, which is around 5% of the world’s total emission. However, Boston Metal is a 9 person small company that would like to change the steel industry, and lower its carbon footprint. They have worked for the last 6 years to try to come up with a solution to this pollution caused by the steel industry, and plan to build a facility and develop an industrial-scale cell for production, should it pass its initial funding round.
This process was first developed by Donald Sadoway, who was a chemist at MIT during the mid-2000’s. NASA had offered a 250,000 dollar prize to the first research team who could figure out how to extract oxygen from the moon’s surface. Sadoway came up with the method of using an electrolytic cell, which produces an electric current to break down compounds. A byproduct of using this process on lunar rocks was molten metals, leading Sadoway to consider using the electrolytic cells to process metals on Earth.
With this discovery, Sadoway and a MIT metallurgy researcher founded Boston Metals in 2012 with the goal of solving the steel industry’s pollution problem. And while trying to change the 1 trillion dollar industry may seem distant, it provides hope for the future.