Hydrogen breakthrough in steelmaking

Reducing global emissions by 7 percent

Fig. 1: Conventional steelmaking process versus HYBRIT

A new, revolutionary process developed by the Swedish steel industry could be a viable and competitive way to use hydrogen to displace coal and other fossil fuels in steelmaking. It would lower the carbon footprint of 1 ton of steel from 1.8 tons of CO2 to 25 kilograms.

The Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology (HYBRIT) has been developed by a consortium of companies and the Swedish government, or, more specifically, LKAB (mining), SSAB (steelmaking), Vattenfall (energy) and Sweden’s energy agency (financial, scientific and technical support).

HYBRIT covers the entire process chain from mining and processing iron ore to making steel to ensure that fossil fuels are close to being eliminated from it. Once HYBRIT is fully implemented in Sweden, it is expected to lower national carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 10 percent. Globally, steelmaking accounts for around 7 percent of all CO2 emissions compared to around 8 percent from cement production.

Using the HYBRIT process is 20 to 30 percent more expensive than making steel in the traditional way. However, this is rather the result of current fossil fuel prices and taxation. As soon as HYBRIT is more widely used and has been improved upon, the process will be less expensive than conventional production methods. Considering the market pull for low-carbon options and the trend toward avoiding climate-damaging products around the world, businesses are certain to see increasing demand for climate-friendly steel – even if this means that prices for it will be higher initially.

To ensure products remain carbon-neutral, the hydrogen that powers steel mills must be produced preferably via electrolysis and clean electricity. The HYBRIT consortium estimates that around 15 terawatt-hours will be needed additionally per year if the new process is to fully replace today’s methods for making iron and steel in Sweden. That is about one-tenth of the country’s current power production.

A prefeasibility study conducted from 2016 to 2017 proved that HYBRIT is a technologically and economically viable pathway. The conclusions from the study, which was supported by Sweden’s energy agency with SEK 60 million, prompted the HYBRIT partners to launch three pilot projects in 2018, with each of them covering a different step in the steelmaking process:

read more in H2-international October 2020

Author: Michael Jensen

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