HYBRIT - Toward fossil-free steel production

SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall take responsibility for contributing to the long-term goal of making Sweden fossil-free, and have therefore initiated HYBRIT, a project aimed at drastically reducing the carbon dioxide emissions of the iron and steel industry.

Illustration: SSAB. 

Both steel scrap and iron ore are needed to cover the need for steel

Steel is produced on the one hand from iron ore (by reduction of the ore in a blast furnace, where the iron is separated from the oxygen with the help of coal) and, on the other hand, from scrap (by using electricity to melt scrap in an electric arc furnace). The scrap-based manufacturing process generates significantly less carbon dioxide since no reduction process is included, but due to the high demand for steel in the world, however, not all steel can be made from scrap, it is simply not enough, and new ore must also be used.

Steel in products has an average lifespan of 30-40 years. 30 years ago, world production of steel was less than half of what it is today. 75 percent of all steel ever made is still in use and so ore will be needed as a raw material for the rest of this century as well. And therefore new sustainable processes are now needed to produce ore-based fossil-free steel.

Toward fossil-free steel production 2045

SSAB's production system is one of the most carbon-efficient blast furnace-based systems in the world. At the same time, today's technology for iron production means that SSAB is Sweden's single largest carbon dioxide emitter. Considering this, SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall have initiated an industrial development project to try to find solutions using hydrogen-based iron production. With a so-called direct reduction, hydrogen will be used to separate the iron from the oxygen, without using carbon. The final product will then be iron and water.

To succeed, commitment from the state, government and universities is needed in the developmental work. If the initiative is successful, it will provide a unique opportunity for Sweden to change to a more sustainable society and a major contribution to Sweden being able to achieve set climate goals for 2045.

HYBRIT stands for Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology.

The project is financed partly by the companies themselves but also with the support of the Swedish Energy Agency.


Both Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Minister for Environment and Climate Isabella Lövin participated in the start ceremony for the pilot plant in Luleå in August 2020. Photo: SSAB.

HYBRIT is divided into three phases

  • A feasibility study in which all conditions are mapped, 2016–2017.
  • Experiments in a pilot study, 2018–2024.
  • Trials in demonstration plant, 2026–2035.

Following the preliminary study, in June 2017, the companies formed a Joint Venture company for the project, HYBRIT Development AB. On February 1, 2018, the pilot study was given a green light and on June 20, the ground was broken for the world-unique pilot plant built on the SSAB site in Luleå. The pilot plant was started on August 31, 2020. It produces small quantities of fossil-free sponge iron. The lessons learned from that production will form the basis for a demonstration plant, which will be in place by 2026. There, iron will be produced under the same conditions as in a full-scale plant, but with limited capacity.

With HYBRIT technology, SSAB aims to be the first steel company in the world to bring fossil-free steel to the market already in 2026. If HYBRIT becomes successful, it means that Sweden can reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by ten percent and Finland by seven percent.

Further information:

See also:

Making Fossil-free Steel, a Bloomberg video reportage 2021-10-17

The Promise of Carbon-Neutral Steel 2021-09-18 (newyorker.com) 

When will the steel industry become fossil-free?
Intervju with Christina Båge Friborg, Sustainability Director at SSAB (Rejlers Play, August 2021).

Article in "Nordic Steel and Mining Rewiew", December 2019: 
Hybrit will revolutionise the world's steel industry (bergsmannen.se)