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 could 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 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.
Questions and answers about HYBRIT
What does the abbreviation HYBRIT stand for?
It stands for Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology.
How is this project going to go?
SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall conducted a feasibility study in 2016–2017 to develop a basis for a further research project. In the spring of 2018, a more concrete research and development program was launched in which a world-unique fossil-free pilot plant has been built on the SSAB site in Luleå. A hydrogen storage facility will be built on LKAB's land inside Svartöberget, 25 to 35 meters below ground level, near the pilot plant. Construction of the hydrogen storage facility is planned to start in 2021 and it is estimated that it will be able to be commissioned two to three years later.
What challenges will the project encounter?
It will take time to find technical and industrial solutions for this process. It works in theory, but putting this into practice will take time and requires considerable resources; there are many technical and commercial issues that need to be solved. SSAB today has blast furnaces that are newly renovated and in top condition. In 20 years, they need to be renovated again or replaced. In the meantime, if they succeed in the developmental work for this new technology, they can convert the production system without major disruption of value. Like other major investments, the project is dependent on well-functioning and legally secure permit processes.
How is the project financed?
The project is financed partly by the companies themselves but also with the support of the Swedish Energy Agency.
What is the division of responsibilities between the companies?
SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall contribute with different parts to the project, especially know-how and plant expertise, in collaboration with the state and research institutes. Exactly what the distribution will look like they will come back to, and it will also vary in different phases of the project.
What do the companies want the Swedish state to do?
The companies need both political will and decisiveness, that decision-makers and officials see that this can be an important and major part of Sweden's achievement of its climate goals. But financial support is also needed through targeted research grants.
SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall believe that Sweden has unique conditions for such a project – why?
Sweden has a specialized and innovative steel industry, access to fossil-free electric power and Europe's most high-quality iron ore. No other country in Europe has the same conditions, with the combined expertise of these three companies and with the country's unique natural resources. Sweden also has high-class R&D expertise at its universities and research institutes. All in all, this means that Sweden has a unique opportunity to take responsibility for the challenge of process emissions in the steel industry and obtain fossil-free production. Sweden can go ahead and show the way.
When can this technology be introduced?
It is about 20–30 years before this technology can be introduced into large-scale industrial production.
What is the challenge compared to today's process?
The challenge is really about two things:
- To find a working process for using 100 percent hydrogen on an industrial scale,
- Producing hydrogen in an energy efficient way, making it economically viable.
Is there the electric power that this technology will require?
Among other things, this is what provides Sweden with unique conditions for this technology. Sweden already has a structural surplus of electricity and in the future we can convert to a completely sustainable and fossil-free electricity production with water, wind and bioenergy.
Article in "Nordic Steel and Mining Rewiew", December 2019:
Hybrit will revolutionise the world's steel industry (bergsmannen.se)