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HYBRIT consortium to start-up world’s first pilot plant for fossil-free steel

In Sweden, SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall are taking a decisive step toward fossil-free steelmaking with the start-up of HYBRIT’s globally-unique pilot plant for the production of fossil-free sponge iron. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven started up the plant together with Isabella Lövin, Minister for Environment and Climate and Deputy Prime Minister, Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO of SSAB, Jan Moström, President, and CEO of LKAB, and Magnus Hall, President, and CEO of Vattenfall.

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“Right now we have a historic opportunity to do things that provide jobs here and now – but also hasten the climate transition that everyone realizes is necessary. Today, you are laying the foundations that will enable the Swedish steel industry to be entirely fossil- and carbon dioxide-free in 20 years. Together we can rebuild Sweden as the world’s first fossil-free welfare nation”, said Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (photo courtesy Viveka Österman).

In 2016, mining major LKAB, iron- and steel maker SSAB, and energy utility major Vattenfall AB launched “Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology (HYBRIT) – the way to fossil-free steel”, an initiative seeking to solve the carbon dioxide (CO2) issue in the Swedish steel industry.

In June 2017, the trio formed HYBRIT Development joint-venture (JV) and received SEK 60 million (≈ EUR 6.1 million) Swedish Energy Agency funding towards a four-year research project including a pre-feasibility study up to the end of 2017.

Based on the pre-feasibility study results and with new financial support from the Swedish Energy Agency, they announced plans to forge ahead with the pilot phase with two pilot plant projects; one for the development of a fossil-free heating technique for the sintering of iron ore pellets at an LKAB facility and one for fossil-free sponge iron (DRI/HBI) at SSAB Luleå.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the latter was held in June 2018 and was also officiated by PM Löfven and Deputy PM Lövin.

This inauguration concretizes that the industrial transition is taking place as we speak and that a fossil-free society is within reach. This unique project has generated a lot of international attention for Sweden. Through the Leadership Group for Industry Transition, which the UN has asked Sweden to lead, this has the opportunity to reverberate around the world, said Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister and Climate Minister.

Comprehensive testing programme

At the plant, HYBRIT will perform tests in several stages in the use of hydrogen in the direct reduction of iron ore. The hydrogen will be produced at the pilot plant by electrolyzing water with fossil-free electricity.

The completed HYBRIT pilot plant at SSAB Luleå where hydrogen will be produced from electrolysis of water and used in the direct reduction of iron ore (photo courtesy Vattenfall).

Tests will be carried out between 2020 and 2024, first using natural gas and then hydrogen to be able to compare production results.

I’m incredibly proud that our globally unique pilot plant has now been completed. It is a milestone in the transition to fossil-free steel. We aim to be the first to market, in as early as 2026, with fossil-free steel. HYBRIT technology will enable us to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions in steelmaking and at the same time help our own customers to reduce their climate footprint. We have the chance to revolutionize the entire steel industry and show that net-zero emissions are possible. We must seize this chance, said Martin Lindqvist, President, and CEO of SSAB.

The full-scale effort to replace fossil oil with bio-oil in one of LKAB’s existing iron-ore pellet plants in Malmberget is already underway in a test period extending until 2021. Preparations are also underway to build a test hydrogen storage facility on LKAB’s land in Svartöberget in Luleå, near the HYBRIT pilot plant.

I am delighted that today we can start up the plant together with the realization that Swedish industry is leading the global transition to sustainable development and lower climate impact. For LKAB, HYBRIT is a step on our journey towards our goal of being a leading carbon-free actor in a fossil-free value chain in 2045. The pilot plant will play a decisive role before we can ramp up the technology for use on an industrial scale. The oxygen in the iron is the great challenge and we need to eliminate it, said Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB.

Significant carbon emission reduction potential

According to the trio, the HYBRIT initiative has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 10 percent in Sweden and 7 percent in Finland, as well as contributing to cutting steel industry emissions in Europe and globally. Currently, the steel industry generates 7 percent of the total global CO2 emissions.

With HYBRIT, SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall aim to create a completely fossil-free value chain from the mine to finished steel and to introduce a completely new technology using fossil-free hydrogen instead of coal and coke to reduce the oxygen in iron ore. This means the process will emit ordinary water instead of CO2.

A partnership like this shows how we can take the lead in the transition to innovative, fossil-free products. Vattenfall seeks to enable a fossil-free life within a generation, not just through fossil-free production but also through partnerships like HYBRIT, where we can use electricity as a source of innovation for a fossil-free future. Our fossil-free electricity and its conversion to hydrogen are key components here, not just for the steel but also because the storage of hydrogen can balance an electricity system with more weather-dependent power generation and increased capacity challenges. I am proud that everyone involved has made it possible to start up this plant today and I look forward to seeing fossil-free steel on the market, said Magnus Hall, President, and CEO of Vattenfall.


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