For the First Time Ever, Hydrogen Is Used to Power Commercial Steel Production

May 11,2020

For the first time, hydrogen was used to fuel commercial steel production by replacing liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a source of high-temperature heat in a pilot project in Sweden. The Swedish steelmaker Ovako’s trial at its Hofors steel plant, in collaboration with the hydrogen manufacturer Linde Gas, found that H2 had no impact on steel quality.

Göran Nyström, executive vice-president of group marketing & technology at Ovako said, “This is a significant achievement in the steel industry. It is the first time hydrogen has been used to heat steel in the existing production environment. Thanks to the test, we know that hydrogen can be used easily and flexibly, without having an effect on steel quality, which will indicate a very significant reduction of the carbon footprint."

The company said that “This significant achievement for the steel industry shows that carbon dioxide emissions from rollings can be eliminated given that adequate financial resources and facilities are in place. Ovako could, therefore, incorporate hydrogen heating for furnaces in all its rolling mills under the right conditions and thereby significantly reduce its already world-leading low carbon footprint from cradle to gate.”

An Ovako spokesperson tells Recharge that to begin such a roll-out, the company would “need to get funding and collaborate with the right industrial partners”.

Ovako already utilizes renewable energy electric arc furnaces to melt scrap steel to manufacture its base product, including liquefied natural gas to power its rolling mills — where pre-produced steel is passed via pairs of rollers that reduce its thickness to make its thickness uniform.

Today, more than 95 percent of the world's hydrogen comes from natural gas and coal, resulting in nine to 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per tonne of H2 produced. While hydrogen is a clean gas and only releases water vapor when it is burnt, there is no point in replacing coke, coal or liquefied natural gas used in steel production with H2 unless the hydrogen is generated from renewable energy (green) or if the CO2 emitted during its development is captured and stored (blue).

Both green and blue hydrogen are already expensive to produce, accessible in limited quantities, and would increase the cost of steel production, and so companies are hesitant to make a switch — unless renewable H2 was subsidized in some manner.

According to the World Steel Association, the steel industry generates 7-9 percent “of direct emissions from the global use of fossil fuel”.

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