Angeli Mehta reports on how green hydrogen is already making inroads on decarbonising the steel industry
One big source of demand for green hydrogen will come from the steel sector. The Hybrit consortium, a partnership between Swedish steelmaker SSAB, Finnish iron ore producer LKAB, and Swedish energy company Vattenfall, last year delivered the first ingots of green steel, made using green hydrogen to replace the coking coal that traditionally reduces iron ore to iron.
It claims the method eliminates 90% of the emissions associated with steel production. As a member of the U.S.-led First Movers coalition, which aims to create a market for green steel and six other green technologies, Vattenfall has committed to procure a higher share of emerging technologies in its supply chain.
Demand from carmakers has been such that SSAB has brought forward its plans to largely eliminate carbon in its operations, by 15 years, to 2030.
We have proven that the technology works, and we have the preconditions in Sweden and Finland to move faster
Volvo has already built its first vehicle prototype using green steel – an electric dump truck used in mining – and promises more this year, while Mercedes Benz has also signed up to buy Hybrit’s steel.
“That gave us the confidence that the demand for this type of steel with an extremely low carbon footprint is there. We have proven that the technology works, and we have the preconditions in Sweden and Finland to move faster,” says SSAB’s chief technology officer, Martin Pei. “That was the basis for our board’s policy decision that we will now move as fast as possible to make the transition.”
A key component is hydrogen storage. SSAB and its partners are in the final stages of installing a hydrogen storage test facility, a steel-lined rock cavern. It has repurposed technology used to store natural gas, with the weight of rock above the storage facility helping to maintain the pressure required. If tests are successful, it, too, will be scaled up.
The Hybrit demonstration plant, which is expected to be online in 2025 and producing 1.3 million tonnes of sponge iron, will require 600 megawatts (MW) of electrolyser capacity to manufacture green hydrogen. The complete transition to green steel will require several more of similar magnitude. At the same time, SSAB will begin the process of converting its blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces, powered by renewable energy, to compete the transition to fossil free production.
SSAB and its partners expect to deliver commercial quantities of green steel from 2026 onwards. SSAB is investing almost $5 billion to transform its plants, so the steel will come at a premium. It is closely watching European Union decisions on state aid, and the carbon border adjustment mechanism: “We need a policy framework that supports frontrunners,” says Pei.
But he expects Hybrit “will inspire many others to really start to make investments in this direction. That in turn will drive the development of electrolyser production, manufacturing capabilities, the whole set-up with hydrogen storage, integration with wind power, and so on. The transition will be more dynamic than a policy-driven process of reducing emissions because it's business itself that drives this transition.”
This article is part of The Ethical Corporation’s March 2022 Energy Transition briefing: See also:
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