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Nel to supply electrolyzers for HYBRIT fossil-free steel pilot plant

In Sweden, Hybrit Development, a joint venture between SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall AB, has ordered a hydrogen generation electrolyzer solution from Norway-headed Nel Hydrogen to the pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden. Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technologh (HYBRIT), an initiative supported by the Swedish Energy Agency, plans to replace coal with fossil-free electricity and hydrogen. Emissions from steel production will be water vapour instead of carbon dioxide (CO2).

A Nel A – Atmospheric Electrolyser (photo courtesy Nel Hydrogen Solutions).

A Nel A – Atmospheric Electrolyser (photo courtesy Nel Hydrogen Solutions).

In June 2018, a groundbreaking event was held at steelmaker SSAB’s facility in Luleå in the north of Sweden marking the start of a unique pilot plant to replace coking coal used in the conventional steelmaking process with hydrogen. The 4.5 MW alkaline electrolyzer solution from Nel Hydrogen, the value of which has not been disclosed, will be part of this pilot Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology (HYBRIT) plant.

Being chosen to supply electrolyzers to the first phase of the HYBRIT project is a true honour. It’s encouraging to see the partners behind HYBRIT leading the way in the effort to decarbonize the steel industry; one of the most CO2-intensive industries globally today. In this important benchmark project, the HYBRIT-partners are determined to change the reliance on coal and move to a renewable, fossil-free future, said Henning Langås, Sales Director Alkaline Electrolyzers at Nel Hydrogen.

The pilot plant for fossil free steel production will operate in Luleå, Sweden, from 2021 until 2024, then the project enters a demonstration phase with the goal to have an industrial process in place by 2035.

We believe that HYBRIT can play a significant role to reach a fossil-free future. This order is an important step in our aim to develop a fossil free iron- and steel production process. The electrolyzer will be part of the pilot plant that we right now are building in Luleå. To ensure that we will reach our aims we need a high-quality and reliable hydrogen production plant and therefore we choose Nel, said Martin Pei, Chairman of Hybrit Development, Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at SSAB.

Carbon-intensive process

Due to the nature of its process, the steel industry is one of the highest carbon dioxide (CO2) emitting industries, accounting for 7 percent of global CO2 emissions and 10 percent in Sweden. In today’s ore-based steelmaking process iron ore pellets are converted to metallic iron by reduction in a blast furnace.

The iron oxide and carbon then react to form carbon dioxide gases, as well as metallic iron. The iron is further processed before a semi-finished steel product is produced.

Molten metallic iron is tapped from the bottom of the blast furnace. In the conventional ore-based steelmaking process iron ore pellets are converted to metallic iron by reduction in a blast furnace using coking coal.

The carbon footprint in the steel industry is thus a challenge for Europe and the rest of the world compounded by a growing global population and expanding urbanization that is expected to trigger a rise in global steel demand. Therefore SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall, joined forces to create HYBRIT an initiative with the aim to develop the world’s first fossil-free ore-based steelmaking technology.

Fossil-free steel has tremendous potential. To help the iron- and steel industry to do this transition is one of the most important actions that we need to take to be sure that we will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions. This is also about keeping and developing the Swedish mining and steel industry, in a world-leading position. This is another important step on our journey, said Andreas Regnell, Senior Vice President of Strategic Development, Vattenfall.

Novel process eliminates the use of coking coal

The HYBRIT process is based on the direct reduction of iron ore using fossil-free energy and hydrogen gas (H2). Hydrogen gas is produced by electrolysis of water using fossil-free electricity. The hydrogen reacts with the oxygen in the iron ore and metallic iron and water vapour is formed.

I am grateful to see how one more puzzle piece now will come into place. The production of the hydrogen gas is of great importance for the development of this new process and therefore this contract was a valuable contribution in the process ahead, said Markus Petäjäniemi, director of Technology and Process Development at LKAB.

If successful, the HYBRIT project could lead to a reduction of Sweden’s CO2 emissions by up to 10 percent and would consume approximately 15 TWh of fossil-free electricity.

Hot coke being discharged from the coking plant where coal is converted into metallurgical coke at SSAB’s steel mill in Luleå before transport to the quench tower for cooling. The coke gas and coke are used in the blast-furnace as fuel and the reducing agent. The HYBRIT project ultimately aims to replace all fossil-carbon use in steelmaking by using hydrogen.

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