Inside Clean Energy: From Sweden, a potential breakthrough for clean steel
In the deluge of breathless announcements of emission reduction technologies, I often wonder about the same question: “Is this a big deal?”
Today I’m going to tell you about one that looks like a big deal, giving hope that the world can find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of heavy industry.
In Sweden on Monday, the partnership of a steel company, a mining company and an electricity producer announced that it had succeeded in producing some form of iron using a near-emission-free process.
The companies have been working for five years on a joint venture called HYBRIT, with the aim of using renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and then using the hydrogen, along with iron ore pellets, to make ” sponge cast iron ‘, which can be used to make steel. Today, the companies report that they are the first to use this process to produce sponge iron on a pilot scale, which is a step up from the laboratory scale and a sign of progress towards the possibility. to do it on a commercial scale.
“This technological breakthrough is a critical step on the road to fossil-free steel,” said Martin Lindqvist, president and CEO of SSAB, a global steel company based in Sweden and one of HYBRIT’s partners, in a statement. communicated. “The potential cannot be underestimated. This means that we can meet climate targets in Sweden and Finland and help reduce emissions across Europe.
This follows the opening of the HYBRIT factory last year in Luleå, Sweden, a small town near the Arctic Circle.
Companies too often throw out words like “breakthrough”, but this time it can be justified. The steel industry is responsible for 7 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, with most of the world’s steel produced by burning coal or natural gas in blast furnaces.
Industry has been able to use electric arc furnaces to make “secondary steel”, which comes from smelting and reusing scrap metal. But the demand for steel exceeds what can be met with scrap, so companies must find cleaner ways to make “primary steel” from iron ore. HYBRIT is developing one of the most promising options.
I asked Jeffrey Rissman, director of the industry program and head of modeling at think tank Energy Innovation, what he thought of the HYBRIT announcement.
“The short answer is, ‘Yes, that’s important,’” he said.
But he had a few caveats: The process HYBRIT uses isn’t the only way to make carbon-free steel, and promising research is underway on other approaches, he said. Also, HYBRIT is far from being the only one working on a process for using hydrogen to make sponge iron.
Another prominent example is Luxembourg’s ArcelorMittal, which ranked No. 2 in global steel production in 2020, and said it aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The company has a factory in Hamburg, Germany, which is working on a process similar to what HYBRIT did in Sweden.
To a certain perspective, SSAB was No. 52 in global steel production last year, according to the World Steel Association, so it’s a big player, but not one of the biggest.
SSAB’s partners in the clean steel project are LKAB, a mining company, and Vattenfall, an electricity company. The latter two companies are owned by the Swedish government, while the main shareholders of SSAB are the Finnish government.
Government ownership of the companies means that the push to reduce emissions has different economic and political dimensions than another multinational company that operated in the two countries.
The governments of Sweden and Finland, as well as the European Union, have helped set the emissions rules that force the steel industry to transform. At the same time, governments have a financial stake in the long-term success of businesses, as well as a desire to keep industry jobs.
Last year, when the HYBRIT factory opened, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said the factory was part of “a historic opportunity to do things that create jobs here and now” that ” will also accelerate the climate transition that everyone is making is necessary. “
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HYBRIT partners see their successful pilot project as a step towards reaching commercial scale by 2026 and becoming one of the leading sellers of fossil-free steel. The companies haven’t said how much steel will cost, but it will be expensive.
So who is going to buy it? Some of the clients will be other EU companies looking to reduce emissions from their supply chains. One example is Volvo, the Swedish-based automaker owned by a Chinese holding company. Days before HYBRIT’s announcement this week, SSAB announced it was partnering with Volvo to explore ways to use fossil-free steel in the automotive industry.
The move towards a cleaner steelmaking process is important because heavy industry is one of the most difficult sectors of the global economy to achieve the goal of net zero emissions. This contrasts with the electricity and transportation sectors, where we have a pretty good idea of the way forward to reduce emissions, however difficult it is.
Given the scale of the challenge in the steel industry, the progress announced this week is cause for optimism, Rissman said.
“This is, I think, the real thing,” he said, adding, “It’s a good thing that they are doing this and investing in this.”
Other stories about the energy transition to remember this week.
The Biden administration is considering a ban on polysilicon from China: The solar market will have to make big adjustments if the Biden administration decides to ban imports of polysilicon, which is a key component of solar panels. The administration plans to ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region in response to reports of human rights abuses in polysilicon production, according to Kelsey Tamborrino and Gavin Bade of Politico. The region is the world’s primary source of material, but companies in the solar industry are aware of the possibility of a supply disruption and are securing other sources.
Ossoff offers a tax credit for American solar manufacturers: US Senator John Ossoff (D-Ga.), Introduced a bill that would grant tax credits to manufacturers of solar energy components. He said the United States needs to provide more support to domestic manufacturers to counter China’s dominance in the industry, as Zack Budryk reports for The Hill. Georgia has several large factories that manufacture solar panels and other components for the industry. “This legislation will bring more clean energy jobs to Georgia while creating tens of thousands of clean energy jobs across the country,” Ossoff said.
Gas station owners are slow to install electric vehicle chargers: A potential challenge in the switch to electric vehicles is that gas station owners are reluctant to install charging systems. Station owners fear that there aren’t enough EVs yet to make chargers profitable, and they fear that charging technology will evolve so rapidly that investments in the near future could be in rapidly obsolete systems, like the Cara Korte reports for CBS News. Hani Hamadi, owner of seven service stations in Michigan, is installing a charging station that will cost up to $ 150,000, which he says is “not comparable” to the $ 20,000 it costs for. install a double-sided fuel pump.
North Carolina is working on major energy legislation: Legislative leaders are scrambling to rewrite an energy proposal in North Carolina after Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he opposed a version written by Republican leaders. The original version of the bill included a timetable for shutting down coal-fired power plants, but conservationists and legislative Democrats have opposed provisions that would encourage the construction of natural gas-fired plants to replace coal and withdraw. authority of utility regulators, such as Catherine Morehouse reports for Utility Dive. Opponents said the bill was a gift to the state’s largest utility, Duke Energy, a company that was part of the drafting of the bill.
Thanks for reading! Note that Inside Clean Energy will take a hiatus next week. I’ll be back online and in your inbox on July 8th.
Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly newsletter and analysis on the energy transition. Send tips and questions to [email protected]