AN INDUSTRIAL consortium has been formed in Sweden to develop a steel production process that emits water rather than CO2 by using hydrogen rather than fossil fuels.
The project partners – steelmaker SSAB, iron pellet supplier LKAB, and electricity generator Vattenfall – seek to modify the direct reduction method of steelmaking. Conventional iron-making setups use hydrogen and carbon monoxide from natural gas or coal to remove the oxygen from iron oxide pellets, producing CO2.
The consortium instead plans to reduce the iron using only hydrogen, produced by splitting water with electrolysis powered by clean electricity, an SSAB spokesperson told The Chemical Engineer. Rather than using fossil fuels and emitting CO2 the process will use, reform and emit water instead.
Sweden is well placed to produce hydrogen using clean energy. It is the leading producer of renewable energy in the EU with 52% generated from cleaner sources including bioenergy, hydropower and wind.
Announcing the project, SSAB CEO Martin Lindqvist explained that the company already runs one of the world’s most CO2-efficient iron-making processes but given that the company is the largest single source of CO2 in Sweden and Finland it must assume responsibility for finding a long-term solution to reduce emissions even further.
“We today announce a new project that we call ‘Hybrit’ – hydrogen breakthrough iron-making technology. And the aim is to reduce emissions from iron-making to zero by eliminating the need to use fossil fuel for iron reduction,” he said.
The team expects it will take 20 years to fully develop the process, with the pre-feasibility study finished by the end of 2017, pilot plant trials by 2024, and full demonstration completed by the close of 2035.
Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall explained a key challenge will be balancing on the grid such a large demand for renewable electricity – around 15–20 TWh – from a single source.
Asked by reporters about the costs of the project, the consortium leaders said they wouldn’t be known until the early stages of development are completed, though conceded it would be expensive and requires government support.
Mikael Damberg, Swedish minister for enterprise and innovation, welcomed the project, noting that the government has an ambition to become one of the first fossil-free states in the world.
“So in the long run it is necessary to replace coal in the steel processes,” Damberg said. “And this requires a radical technological leap. Therefore I truly welcome this ambitious project…Success of the project will mean a great step in the battle against climate change but it also means a more competitive Swedish steel industry.”
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