From December issue of NZ Manufacturer www.nzmanufacturer.co.nz
Tell readers what you do?
My expertise is in high temperature materials and processes. When I left full time work at BlueScope NZ Steel to care for my premature baby, I found it difficult to fit back into the workforce.
I expect it’s improved now but employers were not at all flexible with regards to family responsibilities, so I have been doing consulting work on whatever comes up; reline quality assurance and incident investigation for Ballance at their ammonia plant, process and containment for CarbonScape are two examples.
I also formed my own company – Advanced Materials Technologies – NZ Limited – which was a collaboration with an ex colleague based in Queensland, Australia to supply Australian and New Zealand with materials sourced from Harbison Walker International, a US company renowned internationally for the quality of its products.
Most recently, I am interested in the technologies which can be utilised to slash the (extremely high) CO2 emissions generated by the steelmaking industry and, have been advising and assisting Helios with their novel sodium-based reduction process.
This has been a very fruitful relationship, unfortunately disrupted by the war that has broken out there.
When I am not working, I am often out wingfoiling on the Manukau and Waitamata harbours.
What has been your involvement in green steel making?
I’ve been promoting the possibility of low emissions iron and steelmaking to whoever will listen for many years, including the outgoing Climate Change Minister, Hon James Shaw who has been politely listening to my representations since he became co-leader of Green Party.
Although, numerous commentators have been claiming that the steelmaking sector would be hard to abate, there has been a small group of dedicated scientists and engineers working on alternative, non carbon, reductants for decades.
This effort culminated in in the formation of a Swedish collaborative effort between the government, energy, mining and steelmaking sector to create Hybrit, the first company to produce virgin iron in quantity without the use of fossil fuel reductants.
I like to think that my lobbying has some small contribution to the previous government’s decision to invest in the transformation of New Zealand Steel’s primary plants.
And transition engineering?
I watched Professor Susan Krumdiek’s lectures on energy transformations after they were posted by Dr. Mike Joy on social media.
I was immediately impressed by her grasp of the energy constraints that would be imposed by a transition to renewable sources and that this could be counteracted by engineering that reduced the amount of energy consumed when conducting everyday activities.
So, during Covid lockdown, I took her on-line course to learn the fundamentals of the discipline and how it could be applied in my local area.
What has been a project that inspired you?
I have been inspired by the Swedish initiative to create low emissions steel which has completely upended the narrative from “it can’t be done” to “how are we going to do this?’
This has utterly changed the landscape to the point where every major steelmaker must have a plan to stop emitting through their ironmaking methods by at least 2050 and those who do so earlier will enjoy premiums for their product and subsidies from the EU, at least.
How do you see the NZ steel industry at present?
Since the announcement that NZ Steel will shift to EAF production, the outlook for continued steel production in NZ has brightened considerably. The primary plants themselves are old and require substantial investment to continue to operate, and it was doubtful that BlueScope Steel would have made that investment without government assistance.
This is not due to lack of money but rather that this investment would have not compared well with other uses for their capital. The big loser here would have been New Zealand as we would have lost many skilled workers who, mostly based at NZ Steel, are often called upon to work on other industrial sites around the country.
We would also have been more heavily reliant on imported steel products, likely from China, and we have already experienced some of the problems with that during the Christchurch rebuild.
With the transformation of NZ Steel to a much greener producer (and maybe ultimately to a green steel producer) its products will be more acceptable to the construction industry (who have to account for their scope 3 emissions) than imported steel.
Highlights of your professional life?
I hope that the best is yet to come, but it was very rewarding working in a manufacturing team to improve the performance of steelmaking at NZ Steel, that turned the operation from one beset by operational interruption, into one that was producing consistently and reliably.
It is also always satisfying to deliver an operational unit back to the customer, with a repair that exceeds their expectations.
I’ve been involved in many pilot projects that were probably ahead of their time from solid oxide fuel cells to direct strip casting of steel; most of which have not achieved their potential, but none have entirely disappeared.
I think I won’t be happy until at least one of those has had a significant impact on how we make stuff.
Is it achieving its goals?
Until we start manufacturing the necessities of modern life without having excessively negative impacts on the climate and environment, I won’t feel like I’ve achieved anything significant.
This is a failure of capitalism and public policy in that, as long as the negative impacts are not immediately felt by investors and voters, there is no impetus for change.
Who inspires you?
Julie Webster was the Chief Engineer of the Cassini mission to Saturn; an incredibly ambitious mission that involved sending a sophisticated robot to explore the rings and moons of Saturn that started in 1997 and lasted through 2017.
At the end of the mission, her team was tasked with crashing the spacecraft into the atmosphere in a way that wouldn’t damage Saturn or any of its moons.
In a field normally dominated by men, Julie and her team delivered one of NASA’s most ambitious projects with very few problems. There’s a Netflix documentary on the mission’s last days which I highly recommend.
Closer to home, Jeanette Fitzsimons, best known as the original co-leader of The Green Party, forged a path for environmentalism in politics and was a tireless advocate for climate action well into her later years.
Although most people will remember her an activist, fewer people know of her contribution to the creation of sustainable technology and industries. For example, she was one of the original supporters of CarbonScape who have recently secured a large investment from forestry giant, Stora Enso to commercialise their graphite from woodwaste production method.
Not necessarily my favourite, but at the moment I’m reading James Renwick’s Under the Weather – A future forecast for New Zealand. Unlike most books on climate change, James gives a personal account of his journey to becoming a climate scientist which adds context to his warnings for the future.
Highly readable and enjoyable, apart from his grim message if we choose to do nothing.