Swedish steel maker Ovako this week claimed a world-lead first, as it replaced conventional LPG as a heat source with clean-burning hydrogen. The process breakthrough promises major implications for one of the world’s heaviest carbon-emitting industries.
Working with German provider Linde Gas, the company is conducting hydrogen trials in a rolling mill at its plant in Hofors, southern Sweden.
The quality of the steel output was unaffected by the switch, Ovako reported. Now it is considering expanding its use of the clean-burning gas in future production.
“This is the first time hydrogen has been used to heat steel in an existing production environment” said Ovako’s head of technology Göran Nyström. “Thanks to the trial, we know that hydrogen can be used simply and flexibly … mean(ing) a very large reduction in carbon footprint.
“We have worked closely with Linde for many years and are proud to be doing this together,” he added.
Ovako’s hydrogen trial used recycled scrap only, producing ‘secondary’ steel, lower in emissions than ore-derived ‘primary steel’.
Quantities of output from the trial were not revealed by the parties. But Ovako calculates it can save an initial 20,000 tonnes of CO2e per annum – which is “just the beginning”, according to the firm. Thanks to existing sustainability commitments, the company already claims its unit emissions are 80 per cent below average for the steelmaking industry.
In 2017 the International Energy Agency calculated that steel production via various processes, accounted for around 7 per cent of the world’s industrial greenhouse emissions. Surging demand puts that on track for over 30 per cent by mid-century, said the IEA.
Heavy emitters, such as steel and cement, now face serious pressure to decarbonise and “must transform themselves if they are to survive the low carbon transition”, investors managing assets worth £14tn recently warned.
While gas firms such as Linde are investing in hydrogen to decarbonise industry, Nordic utilities are also weighing up investments to harness excess renewable generation via electrolysis.
Vattenfall is working with heavy industry in Sweden, including steel and paper makers and aims to own the entire hydrogen supply chain – from power generation through production to storage.
Denmark’s Ørsted has also set up a standalone hydrogen unit, with funded projects now underway in the UK and Denmark, plus activities in Germany and the Netherlands.