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Successful trials at LKAB using bio-oil in the iron-ore pelleting process

In Sweden, trials using fossil-free fuels to provide heat in the iron-ore pelleting process at LKAB's Malmberget plant have produced successful results within the framework of the HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology) initiative. The world’s very first fossil-free iron ore pellets are within range and HYBRIT partners SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall intend to be the first in the world with a value chain for fossil-free steel.

Bio-oil flame test inside burner one at LKAB’s Malmberget iron ore pellet plant in Sweden. Replacing fossil oil with bio-oil is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of the pelleting process by up to 40 percent and is one of the alternatives being trialed within the HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology) initiative (photo courtesy LKAB).

Fossil-free steel production starts in the mine and the processing plants. The development of the next generation of iron-ore pellet plants is underway, and one of the challenges and contributions to HYBRIT for mining major Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB) is to develop fossil-free iron-ore pellets, which requires a change of heating technology in the process.

Achieving positive results from different heating technologies represents an important milestone on the road to delivering the world’s very first fossil-free iron ore pellets and further on in the value chain for fossil-free steel. The HYBRIT initiative is a key to achieving LKAB’s goal of being a leading supplier of fossil-free iron ore, initially in a fossil-free value chain from mine to fossil-free steel, and in the long term totally carbon dioxide-free, said Markus Petäjäniemi, SVP Market and Technology at LKAB.

40 percent emissions reduction with bio-oil

Full-scale tests are currently underway to replace fossil oil with bio-oil in one of LKAB’s existing iron-ore pellet plants in Malmberget, reducing emissions for the operation by 40 percent during the test period, which will last until 2021.

These tests are part of the pilot phase in HYBRIT initiative, where the overarching goal is to be first in the world with a fossil-free value chain from the mine, using fossil-free electricity and hydrogen, to finished steel products, thereby cutting Sweden’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 10 percent.

The bio-oil storage tank at LKAB’s Malmberget iron ore pellet plant (photo courtesy LKAB).

Apart from biofuels and fossil-free electricity, other alternatives to heat the iron-ore pelleting process have been tested on a pilot scale. These include hydrogen and plasma the results of which are promising, but require further development before full-scale implementation is possible.

More steel will be needed as the world’s population increases and cities grow. But current steelmaking generates vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. It’s not sustainable. With the HYBRIT initiative, we’re revolutionizing an entire industry and introducing a new technology for fossil-free steel on an industrial scale. SSAB’s goal is to be able to offer fossil-free steel to the market as early as 2026 and to be totally fossil-free as a company by 2045, said Martin Pei, CTO at SSAB and initiator of the HYBRIT project.

HYBRIT pilot plant nears completion

Construction of the pilot plant for fossil-free sponge iron (DRI/HBI) at SSAB’s iron and steel plant in Luleå will be completed during the summer, and preparations are underway to build a temporary hydrogen storage facility to store fossil-free hydrogen in caverns.

It’s very pleasing that our joint HYBRIT project is constantly taking important steps forwards, steps that will enable us to produce fossil-free steel, which has a natural place in a fossil-free society. We’re working in a focused way to make it possible to live a fossil-free life within a generation, said Andreas Regnell, SVP Strategic Development at Vattenfall and Chairman of HYBRIT.

About HYBRIT

Hybrit Development AB is a joint venture owned by the steel manufacturer SSAB, the mining company LKAB and the energy company Vattenfall, with the aim of developing the world’s first fossil-free ore-based steel manufacturing. The HYBRIT initiative began in spring 2016 with the aim of having an industrial process in place by 2035. With the use of hydrogen gas instead of coke and coal in steel manufacturing, the emissions will take the form of water instead of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The initiative has the potential to reduce Sweden’s total carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent. Since 2016, the HYBRIT initiative has been granted financial support of SEK 599 million (≈ EUR 55.4 million) by the Swedish Energy Agency. The three owner companies have so far spent and committed to investing SEK 1.1 billion (≈ EUR 101.8 million). The research project, Research Project 1, is a comprehensive collaboration between industry, colleges, and research institutes to identify possible fossil-free stages in the energy, mining, iron, and steel value chain.

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