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Making steel without fossil fuels      [2018-05-15]

New pilot facility in Sweden to produce steel without fossil fuel  

With a growing global population and greater urbanization, coupled with technological advancements in pre-engineered metal buildings with high structural integrity, the global steel market is expected to reach US$1.01 trillion by 2025.


Yet, at the same time, the steel industry is one of the highest CO2-emitting industries in the world, accounting for 7.0 percent of CO2 emissions globally. This means the steel industry's carbon footprint will become more of a challenge as the world fights to reduce carbon emissions.


The creation of HYBRIT

This is why in 2016, SSAB, a steel products maker, LKAB, Europe’s largest iron ore producer, and Vattenfall, one of Europe’s largest electricity producers, joined forces to create HYBRIT, a joint-venture project that endeavors to revolutionize steel-making.


The new group planned to develop a steel-making process that would emit water instead of carbon dioxide (CO2). HYBRIT planned on using hydrogen, produced with electricity from fossil-free Swedish sources. This led to a pre-feasibility study being done in June 2017.


By February 2018, the group had completed the study and were ready to begin the planning and designing of the pilot plant in Lulea and the iron ore deposits in Norrbotten this spring. It is estimated the total cost of the process will be SEK 20 million (USD 2.5m/EUR 2m), with the Swedish Energy Agency financing half of it.


“Fossil-free steel production starts in the mine, and we’re currently working intensively on how the next generation of pellet plants will be designed, as well as how a future electrified and more highly automated mine should be designed,” said Jan Mostrom, president, and CEO of LKAB.


Making steel without fossil fuels

Mårten Görnerup, the CEO of Hybrit spoke with EURACTIV last week. One of the big takeaways from the interview is that HYBRIT has designed a value chain that encompasses everything from the mining of the iron ore through to production of the steel.


Hybrit also aims to eventually “totally replace” Sweden’s iron production, cutting the country’s CO2 emissions by 10 percent. And while it was found that production costs will be 20 to 30 percent higher than steel made in a conventional manner, the price will shrink as carbon prices go up and cost of green energy continues to decline.


But how do you produce steel without using fossil fuel? In the current blast-furnace process, coal is the main source of energy, says HYBRIT. "The use of coke ovens produces metallurgical coke and coke oven gas. The coke is used in the blast furnace process, and the coke oven gas is used as the major fuel in the whole steel mill."


Iron ore is generally processed in sintering plants into sinter, and in some cases in pelletizing plants to iron ore pellets. Iron ore sinter and pellets are then charged together with coke from the top of the blast furnaces. "Pulverised coal, oxygen, and hot blast air are injected through tuyeres in the lower part of the blast furnace."


In the HYBRIT process, specially developed iron ore pellets are reduced using hydrogen gas in what is called a "direct reduction process." This process takes place at a lower temperature than what is found in a blast furnace, emitting an intermediate product, sponge iron or direct reduced iron (DRI), with only water vapor being emitted from the top of the furnace.


The water can be collected and "scrubbed" before being reused in the plant. Hydrogen gas is produced by electrolyzing water using renewable energy, (wind, hydro or solar power), with oxygen gas being the by-product.


There are two major issues in this process that HYBRIT will be working to address during the pilot program: To develop an effective process to use 100% hydrogen on an industrial scale, and to produce hydrogen in an energy-efficient way so that it is economically justifiable/commercially viable, says HYBRIT.