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Steelmakers Rush to Secure Supplies Before Clean Tech Takes Over

 Mergers and Acquisitions Surge as Coking Coal Remains Crucial for Steel Production

by Victor Adetimilehin

The global coal industry faces a dichotomous future. While traditional thermal coal used for power generation is increasingly shunned due to environmental concerns, a different type of coal, coking coal, is experiencing a boom in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity. This surge is driven by steelmakers around the world scrambling to secure high-quality coking coal reserves before cleaner alternatives become commercially viable.

Coking Coal: A Unique Player in the Coal Market

Unlike its thermal coal counterpart, coking coal, also known as metallurgical coal, plays a vital role in steel production. It provides the intense heat and carbon necessary for blast furnaces to transform iron ore into molten iron, a critical step in creating steel. Currently, there are no readily available, large-scale replacements for coking coal in steelmaking. This unique characteristic makes coking coal assets highly attractive, particularly premium hard-coking coal with lower impurities and emissions.

Several recent deals underscore the growing interest in the coking coal market. In June 2024, mining giant Glencore entered into an agreement to acquire a significant portion of Teck Resources’ coking coal business. This deal values the coking coal unit at over $9 billion, highlighting the significant value placed on these assets. Similarly, Australian coal producer Whitehaven Coal doubled down on coking coal by acquiring two mines from a BHP-Mitsubishi joint venture. These transactions suggest that despite the overall decline in the coal industry, coking coal remains a strategic priority for steelmakers seeking to secure a stable supply.

While coking coal enjoys a temporary reprieve, the industry is not without its challenges. Green hydrogen and other emerging technologies are being actively explored as potential replacements for coking coal in steel production. These clean technologies have the potential to revolutionize the steel industry by significantly reducing its environmental footprint. The current M&A activity in the coking coal market can be seen as a race against time for steelmakers. They are aiming to secure reliable coking coal supplies to ensure their continued operation in the near future, while also investing in research and development of cleaner steel production methods for the long term.

Profitability Meets Environmental Concerns

The profitability of coking coal adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Premium hard-coking coal remains a lucrative commodity, fetching a high price per ton. This profitability incentivizes mining companies to invest in coking coal production. However, coking coal mining, like all coal mining operations, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. This environmental impact is a growing concern, and stricter regulations and carbon border adjustment mechanisms are potential threats to the long-term sustainability of the coking coal market.

The current surge in coking coal M&A deals reflects a complex interplay of factors. While coking coal remains essential for steel production in the immediate future, the industry faces pressure from both environmental concerns and the development of cleaner technologies. The long-term viability of coking coal remains uncertain, and steelmakers must carefully navigate this period of transition. They need to secure sufficient coking coal supplies to meet their near-term needs while also investing in clean tech solutions to ensure their long-term success in a decarbonizing world.

Source: Mining.com

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