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UK government disadvantages Tata Steel

The UK government is putting Tata Steel at a disadvantage compared with its European peers with the comparatively low level of funding it is providing to help the company decarbonise. The government has committed to provide Tata with £500mn ($635mn) towards the cost of decarbonising its Port Talbot plant in South Wales, which will have an electric arc furnace with a capacity of about 3mn t. This equates to £166/t worth of assistance.

That level of funding would be insufficient to enable other technologies such as two electric arc furnaces or direct reduced iron. Tata itself is investing £700mn in the move, which has widely been criticised by unions and the Labour opposition as a “bad deal”.

In comparison, the German government is giving Salzgitter more than €525/t ($568.80/t) to facilitate its movement to hydrogen-fed green steel. Germany’s ThyssenKrupp will receive almost €870/t to help it transition to green steel at its flagship Duisburg site.

ArcelorMittal is receiving more than €600/t to help decarbonise its Sestao plant in Spain. At its Dunkerque site in France, it has received funding of €850mn to produce 4mn t of lower-carbon steel, equating to €212/t worth of financial assistance. Therefore, most European competitors are receiving greater state assistance.

To feed its electric arc furnace, Tata will still need to import direct reduced iron, pig iron or other metallics to complement the reservoir of domestic scrap. Sources suggest this could be as much as 1mn t/yr.

Should UK electricity prices remain high compared with Europe, there is a risk Tata’s electric arc furnace will still struggle to compete, although the reduction in fixed costs from job cuts and the ability to adjust output quickly will be financially beneficial.

“This steel plant was losing more than £1mn a day, putting it at risk of closure and threatening 8,000 jobs in South Wales and thousands more in the wider supply chain,” a government spokesperson said.

“The government’s unprecedented £500mn grant as part of the £1.25bn investment by Tata Steel will build a new electric arc furnace that protects thousands of long-term jobs, as well as delivering a much greener way of producing steel, cutting carbon emissions in Wales by 22pc.”