A quartet of manufacturing firms has managed to create the world’s first fossil fuel-free steel in Sweden, much of which will go straight into the foundries of Volvo to create the first cars ever made with “green steel.”
It’s a massive first step to decarbonizing a carbon-heavy industry, as steel-making worldwide accounts for 8% of all CO2 emissions resulting from the need for coal in the manufacturing process, and the firms involved in the discovery represent 10% of Sweden’s emissions, and 7% of Finland’s.
Since the Warring States period in Ancient China, and in India and Sri Lanka four centuries before that, metalworkers have understood that to take a useful metal, iron, and turn it into a superior alloy, steel, they needed very high heat and a bit of coal.
Today, that coal is being replaced with hydrogen by Swedish venture firm HYBRIT, owned by Swedish steelmaker SSAB, the state-owned utility Vattenfall, and the mining firm LKAB.
HYBRIT’s method uses hydrogen and green electricity to create the high temperatures and carbon necessary to replace coal in their steel.
Their hope is to get green steel into the bodies of Volvo cars as soon as possible, and into the global circulating market as early as 2026.
“The first fossil-free steel in the world is not only a breakthrough for SSAB, it represents proof that it’s possible to make the transition and significantly reduce the global carbon footprint of the steel industry. We hope that this will inspire others to also want to speed up the green transition,” says Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO of SSAB.
Hardly resting on this remarkable achievement, HYBRIT and its backers are looking to ensure the steel plant and the boilers needed to heat the hydrogen to 1,000°C (1,832°F) for their manufacturing process is run by fossil fuel-free power sources.
They are focused on electric gas heating, and their plant in Luleå, Sweden will trial a 250 kilowatt boiler. If it goes well, a megawatt version will be developed.
“This is one of many exciting steps among all the development taking place within the fossil-free value chain,” stated Eva Vitell, GM of Hybrit Development AB.
Iron ore for steel manufacturing is the world’s second most-traded commodity behind crude oil, and any developments towards making that process greener represents massive potential emissions cuts.