Hydrogen and the Decarbonization of Steel Production in Canada

Reaching Economies of Scale
Vol. 5, Issue 2
September, 2023
By Mohd Adnan Khan, Michael Powell, Martin Tampier, Emily Thorn Corthay, David Layzell

To convert iron ore into the iron required for steelmaking, the Canadian steel industry primarily relies on coal, coke, and natural gas in large blast furnaces. Currently responsible for approximately 2% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, the steel industry is committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, but reaching those goals will require innovative new approaches to steel production.

Written in collaboration with the Canadian Steel Producers Association (CSPA), this  report looks at the potential solution of using low-carbon hydrogen in processes like direct reduced iron (DRI), thoroughly examining the economic, technical, and logistical challenges this approach would involve. The report finds that hydrogen could pave the way for nearly emissions-free steel production—but only if the current and foreseeable obstacles are addressed, particularly regarding the costs associated with low-GHG hydrogen production and delivery.

In addition to their analysis, the report’s authors propose a suite of recommendations, including reinvesting carbon pricing revenue into the steelmaking sector, developing a regional hydrogen strategy, and building a premium market for low-GHG steel. With planning, coordination, and the support of a broader hydrogen economy, hydrogen can play a major role in the steel industry’s shift toward a sustainable future.

About the Authors

Mohd Adnan Khan, PhD

Mohd Adnan Khan is an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta and the principal investigator for the Energy Transition Lab. He is passionate about renewable energy systems and contributing to developing a future hydrogen economy. Adnan has over 10 years of industrial and academic experience leading research teams across the material/ catalyst development value chain, reactor design, systems-level analysis (techno-economic and life cycle analysis), and commercialization. He has played critical roles in fostering industry, government, and academic collaboration. His research lab aims to develop and analyze novel materials, technologies, and credible transition pathways toward Net-Zero emissions for Canada. He works closely with government organizations and non-profits such as the Transition Accelerator to encourage the spin-out of consortium-led projects, get change moving on the ground, and help drive Canada towards a net-zero future.


Michael Powell, M.Sc.

Energy & GHG Specialist

Michael Powell, M.Sc. BASc., is an Energy & GHG Specialist at Thorn Associates, operating primarily in the mining and heavy industry sectors. As a co-author of the CSPA report, Canadian Steel Industry Energy & Greenhouse Gas Emissions Intensity, Technology and Carbon Reduction Roadmap by Golder and Thorn Associates, he helped to compare the energy/emission performance of each Canadian steel facility at the process level as well as benchmarking their performance with international competitors. In addition, Michael conducted a detailed technology-based energy efficiency gap analysis through surveys of each steel facility across Canada, as well as contributing to a low carbon reduction roadmap for the steel sector. He was also heavily involved in the decarbonization strategies of numerous international gold mining companies as well as many other decarbonization related projects including for a Canadian provincial mining sector, an international manufacturing company etc.


Martin Tampier, P.Eng.


Martin Tampier is a partner at ENVINT Consulting. As a longstanding cleantech and alternative energy expert in Canada, Martin provides services to all levels of government and the private sector. Martin studied environmental engineering at the Technical University in Berlin, followed by a Human Ecology post-grad course at the Free University of Brussels. He has worked on energy and sustainability, including bioenergy, biochar and bioproducts, hydrogen, clean tech project evaluation, and GHG quantification and validation in Canada for over twenty years.


Emily Thorn Corthay, P.Eng.

Emily Thorn Corthay, MASc., P.Eng, CEM, CMVP, is Founder & CEO of Thorn Associates, a Canadian industrial decarbonization and energy management consulting corporation specializing in the mining & metals sector. Awarded the 2020 International Energy Engineer of the Year, Emily has helped her clients to implement over $100M in energy savings and >500,000 tCO2e reduction. Emily was a co-author of the CSPA report, Canadian Steel Industry Energy & Greenhouse Gas Emissions Intensity, Technology and Carbon Reduction Roadmap by Golder and Thorn Associates.
In addition, Emily has 20 years of industrial energy/climate experience, is one of 5 instructors for the Certified Energy Manager course in Canada, and was an elected Director of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) Board of Directors and Past Chair of OSPE’s Energy Task Force. Prior to founding Thorn Associates in 2017, Emily was Director of Energy Optimization and Management at Hatch Ltd., an international engineering consulting firm, and began her career working in the hydrogen fuel cell industry for 5 years.

David Layzell, PhD

Transition Pathway Principal

David B. Layzell is an Energy Systems Architect with the Transition Accelerator, a Faculty Professor at the University of Calgary, and Director of the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research CESAR Initiative. Between 2008 and 2012, he was Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE), a cross-faculty, graduate research, and training institute at the University of Calgary. Before moving to Calgary, he was a Professor of Biology at Queen’s University cross appointments in Environmental Studies and the School of Public Policy), and Executive Director of BIOCAP Canada, a research foundation focused on biological solutions to climate change. While at Queen’s he cofounded a scientific instrumentation company called Qubit Systems Inc and was elected ‘Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC) for his research contributions.


Khan, M.A., Powell, M., Tampier, M., Thorn, E. and Layzell, D. (2023). Hydrogen and the Decarbonization of Steel Production in Canada: Reaching Economies of Scale. Transition Accelerator Reports Vol. 5, Issue 2, Pg. 1-145. ISSN  2562-6264