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SSAB to test biocoal in blast furnace-based steel production

In a newly-started Swedish research project, the use of biocoal is being tested in blast furnace-based manufacturing of steel. This is a new method which could potentially reduce fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 30 percent by reducing the amount of fossil coal and coke. The project is being run by Swerea MEFOS which, together with Sweden-headed steel producer SSAB in Oxelösund, will develop methods and carry out testing on a full industrial scale.

The blast furnace at Oxelösund (photo courtesy SSAB).

The steel industry is facing major challenges in its repositioning to a more sustainable society. According to a statement, SSAB’s blast furnaces are among the “most carbon dioxide efficient” in the world, yet at the same time, the company accounts for approximately 10 percent of Sweden’s CO2 emissions.

At the Oxelösund steel mill, the company is exploring options to reach a goal of fossil-free manufacturing by 2026.

In our work in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, we work both in the short term as well as the long-term. The biocoal project is an excellent initiative to further reduce levels using today’s blast furnace technology, said Era Kapilashrami, Head of Metallurgy at Oxelösund.

The purpose of the biocoal project is to showcase the possibilities for dealing with pretreated biomass, for example, residual products from forestry operations. Replacing a percentage of fossil coal with biocoal can lead to reduced fossil CO2 emissions for the steel mill.

The use of biocoal is one option to be tested at scale as SSAB explores carbon footprint reduction alternatives. An excellent initiative that holds promise according to Era Kapilashrami, Head of Metallurgy at Oxelösund (photo courtesy SSAB).

According to Kapilashrami, there have been promising results with small blast furnaces injected with biocoal but the concept has never been tested on a full industrial-scale. The SEK 13 million (≈ EUR 1.37 million) project, financed by SSAB Oxelösund, will start with preparation works in September 2017 and operational testing planned for 2018 – 2019.

If the tests are successful, some of the current coal and coke can be replaced by biocoal without any major investments, resulting in a greater degree of fossil-free manufacturing, said Kapilashrami.

In 2016, SSAB took the initiative for a fossil-free steel industry  (HYBRIT) together with LKAB and Vattenfall. By using hydrogen instead of coke and coal in the steel making, the ambition is to create a process that emits water – instead of CO2. The research will go on until 2035. If successful, HYBRIT, would mean a major contribution to a fossil-free Sweden.

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