Green hydrogen for emissions-free steel production

Possible development of German crude steel production until 2050, © LBST
Possible development of German crude steel production until 2050, © LBST

Green hydrogen is the future of the German steel industry, which is currently facing major pressure to change due to the challenges of climate protection and increasing international competition. Through H2-aided steel production by direct reduction (DR), on the one hand, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the steel sector can virtually be avoided and, on the other, the industry of Germany can once again demonstrate its strength in innovation. With this in view, energy consultancy Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST) is busy preparing a new analysis in the form of a metastudy on behalf of the German hydrogen and fuel cell association (Deutscher Wasserstoff- und Brennstoffzellen-Verband, DWV) in cooperation with DWV’s special advisory group HySteel on the role of green hydrogen in the steel industry.
The core task of the study consisted in a detailed discussion of the following questions. How might the H2 demand of the steel industry in Germany develop up to 2045? And what are the technical, economic and ecological parameters for a sustainable crude steel value chain in Germany? For this purpose, the corresponding studies of the last years were evaluated and in-depth technical and strategy discussions with representatives of the HySteel commission were held.

Technology paths for steel production
Today, crude steel production in Germany is carried out with the aid of the integrated bituminous or metallurgical coal-based smelting of pig iron in a conventional blast furnace (BF) with subsequent oxygen blowing (basic oxygen furnace, BOF) for adjustment of the carbon content. A large proportion of the examined studies assume that annual crude steel production in Germany will maintain its current level of around 40 megatonnes (Mt) of crude steel. Accordingly, steel production was responsible for about seven percent of Germany’s CO2 emissions in 2018.

A departure from coking coal and the alternative use of (green) hydrogen as the reducing agent are therefore unavoidable long term. Short term, the direct reduction of iron ore with the aid of natural gas (CH4-DR) also constitutes an option by which to reduce GHG emissions. In fact, a large part of the approximately 108 Mt of direct reduced iron (DRI), or sponge iron, was produced this way worldwide in 2019.

Further processing of the sponge iron to make crude steel takes place in a suitable melting unit, which today is usually an electric arc furnace (EAF). But to achieve the climate protection targets by 2045, the crude steel production must be carried out using green hydrogen (H2-DR), with further processing of the sponge iron in an electric arc furnace run by renewable electricity.

The German steel industry, that is crude steel production and plant construction, has already adapted to this alternative, fully integrated process technology by developing different variations with sometimes highly innovative integrative concepts. A successive replacement of the conventional BF-BOF route by 2045 can enfold in three phases: setting the course up to 2030 with the first pilot plants for CH4- and H2-DR, consolidation of the market by 2040 and establishment of a market for green steel by 2045/50. In this way, already by 2025 should more than 1 Mt of crude steel be annually produced in a CO2-reduced or -free manner at the pilot plants.[…]

… Read this article to the end in the latest H2-International

Authors: Dr. Jan Michalski & Christopher Kutz – Both at Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik GmbH, Ottobrunn, Germany -, Dr. Ulrich Bünger – Freelance consultant for renewable energy, Dießen am Ammersee, Germany – & Dr. Michael Ball – Freelance consultant for hydrogen energy technology, Den Haag, the Netherlands

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