Sweden revolutionises its steel industry with first fossil- free plant

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A newly established venture is working to establish a first-of-its-kind pilot steel plant to be fuelled with hydrogen, aiming to turn Sweden’s steel industry fossil fuels free by 2035. The ‘HYBRIT- Towards fossil-free steel’ project was established in 2016 when Vattenfall- the Swedish state-owned utility partnered with the Swedish steel manufacturers SSAB and LKAB.

Recently, the 3 partners have taken their collaboration to the next level by signing the go-ahead of the project, proceeding to the planning and designing of the pilot plant in northern Sweden. Its aim is to replace the use of coal in the steel industry with hydrogen produced by renewable energy sources.

The goal is to have provided the solution for a carbon-free steel industry by 2035; this is expected to reduce Sweden’s carbon emissions by 10 percent and Finland’s by 7 percent, as the venture is considering expanding the initiative to the neighbouring country.

In June 2017, the venture launched a pre-feasibility study that concluded that fossil-free steel could be 20-30 percent more expensive. However, they are confident that it will be able to compete with conventionally produced steel in the future as clean energy prices continue to fall and carbon pricing keeps increasing. The project is estimated to cost €2 million, with the Swedish Energy Agency financing half of it.

Magnus Hall, President and CEO of Vattenfall, said, “It’s very positive that we can take the next step with a unique pilot plant, for both the project and for our work on the climate challenge. The industrial electrification and climate-smart hydrogen will be crucial factors in lower emissions and a fossil-free society”.

Erik Brandsma, Director General at the Swedish Energy Agency, said, “With our commitment to the HYBRIT initiative, we are contributing to the long-term competitiveness of the Swedish steel industry and gearing up work on the unique green energy systems”.

For the project to succeed, Jan Mostrom, President and CEO of LKAB, says that significant contributions from the state, research institutes, and universities will be required. The steel industry is one of the most carbon-intense industries worldwide accounting for roughly seven percent of global emissions.

Steel accounts for approximately four percent of the Swedish industry, employing more than 25,000 people- or roughly 4 percent of the country’s total industrial labour force. Sweden is considered an ideal country to pilot such an initiative not only because of its expertise in steel-making, but also because it has an abundant supply of clean electricity. In 2016, the country generated 53.8 percent of its gross final energy from renewable energy sources.This means that it reached its 2020 national targets to meet 49 percent of its energy needs with renewables four years early.

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