Green transformation in the iron and steel industry in India: Rethinking patterns of innovation
There is growing acknowledgement that industrial processes including the production of iron and steel are a pivotal area ripe for technological change if we are to effectively decarbonize, while concurrently industrialize countries of the Global South in a sustainable way. Innovation is an important element in advancing green (decarbonizing and reducing the environmental footprint) steel production. A narrow view of green steel production points to incremental changes that reduce carbon and other environmental footprints. However, insights from innovation systems and transformative innovation policy highlight the role of directionality of decarbonization pathways, arguing that greening steel will not come about without industrial transformation. This requires an overarching, systematic approach that broadens innovation to effectively transform industry towards decarbonization. Public policies provide mechanisms through which to realize these changes. We turn to the production of steel by large firms in India to ask: what technological innovation efforts are underway? What about the role of technology and innovation cooperation? Regarding the directionality of these pathways, to what extent could these efforts lead to green transformation of the production of steel in India?
Drawing from interviews with informants with knowledge of this sector, and various government and industry documents, we found that there is a disconnect between what steel majors and government actors are doing in India – pursuing various activities and policies but doing so in a piecemeal fashion and not pivoting enough towards net zero – and the systemic approach that scholars indicate is fundamental to effectively green the steel sector. Secondly, in contrast to studies that argue that the bulk of international technology cooperation initiatives on R&D are led by the public sector, with the private sector becoming involved at latter stages, various Indian steel majors are actively working on international technology cooperation on R&D. Frontrunner India steel firms are taking proactive steps to produce their steel more sustainably. However, current efforts – principally led by the private sector and where the market for green steel is basically non-existent – to make the sector more sustainable are inadequate. We suggest that governments must play a larger role in promoting innovation to realize the green transformation of steel production in India. International collaboration and technology diffusion combined with national government efforts, which allow for the ‘opening up’ of innovation policy, have the potential to catalyze such systemic changes.