“For one thousand years we have only seen blast furnace processes being developed. No one has given hydrogen gas a try,” said Martin Lindqvist, CEO of SSAB, at an IVA meeting.
The technology, which will replace coal and coke in steel production, is brand new and untested. Up to now it has only worked in a lab, but as early as 2018 a pilot facility will be built. Testing will take place there until 2024. Then the plan is for SSAB in Oxelösund to be the first facility to be converted for hydrogen gas.
When the new technology is in place there will be no carbon emissions from steel production because hydrogen gas will be produced with fossil-free electricity and the only residual product will be water.
“It made sense to bring in Vattenfall and LKAB. This is an industrial project and a partnership between top companies with good ore and hydropower. We are well positioned to make this happen.”
Martin Lindqvist also pointed out that the Government’s and the Swedish Energy Agency’s position and support are positive factors.
SSAB’s recently renovated blast furnace in Luleå is the most climate-efficient one in the world. But it is still one of the main sources of carbon emissions in the country. SSAB’s blast furnaces in Oxelösund and Luleå are Sweden’s largest point sources of carbon emissions; combined they account for 10 percent of total carbon emissions in Sweden.
“So admittedly we’re part of the problem. That’s why one of our goals for 2025 is to help our customers reduce their emissions by the same amount as we ourselves emit,” said SSAB’s CEO, emphasising that it intends be the world’s most profitable steel company.
SSAB’s CTO Martin Pei is the person behind the new hydrogen gas fuelled process. He is also Chairman of the new company, Hybrit Development.
“We can use Sweden’s surplus of fossil-free electricity. Sweden exports around the same amount of energy as we would need,” he said.
Martin Pei doesn’t see any alternative if steel production is to become climate neutral. According to him, storing carbon dioxide is not a solution; there is no suitable way to do it in Sweden.
There are still some hurdles to overcome before SSAB can be an emissions-free company.
“The technology needs to be scaled up from the lab environment. The new production methods also need to be financially competitive. And we need to develop ways to store the gas,” he said.
If all of this is achieved, hydrogen gas will, according to Martin Pei, be an alternative energy source for the whole country.