The Swedish steel maker reveals how its fossil-free production process produces water instead of CO2
When the HYBRIT consortium, including SSAB, enabled the rollout of the world’s first vehicle built with fossil-free steel in 2021, it ushered in a new era for the steel industry and the world. Now, SSAB is making the nearly emissions-free steel technology public to all.
Thanks to the new steelmaking process, the by-product from what has been one of the most carbon dioxide-emitting industries can now be water. SSAB has bottled some of it to bring the point home.
“We can now produce steel where the by-product is water instead of CO2,” says Martin Pei, CTO at SSAB. “We wanted to celebrate this by tangibly showing the change in a way that most people will understand instantly.” SSAB has bottled some of the water resulting from fossil-free steel production, calling it Pure Waste. “A bottle of Pure Waste from the HYBRIT pilot plant is the best proof of what this technology means. We are going from emitting CO2 to emitting water that is recycled in the process. It is nothing short of an incredible possibility. I hope that our colleagues in the industry will seize this chance to transform our sector from a climate villain to a climate hero,” Pei says.
A New Era for Steel Production
Steel is essential to the global economy, enabling everything from transportation and new building construction to consumer goods and electrical infrastructure. So, as the global economy grows, so does steel production — from 1.7 billion metric tons in 2017 to 1.9 billion tons in 2021, according to the World Steel Association.
But the steel industry also produces 7 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Most of the emissions come from the way conventional steel is made — in a blast furnace that relies on coal and coke to remove oxygen from iron.
The fossil-free steel production process developed by SSAB as part of the HYBRIT consortium is an important step toward reducing global CO2 numbers. It works by using hydrogen instead of coal to get the oxygen out of the iron. Combining hydrogen with oxygen from the iron ore in lieu of coal and coke produces water as a by-product instead of CO2.
Martin Pei says the process virtually eliminates carbon dioxide emissions in steel production. “For now, we still have some remaining emissions from the electric arc furnace electrodes and other emissions from alloying elements etc.”, according to Pei.
Demonstrating the feasibility of the new process, Volvo rolled out a built with fossil-free steel in 2021. Since then, other partners have launched first-mover initiatives from key industries, demonstrating products made with fossil-free steel from SSAB.
Sharing the Secrets of Fossil-Free Steel
SSAB works with iron ore producer LKAB and energy company Vattenfall as part of the HYBRIT initiative. Together, they have developed a value chain for fossil-free iron and steel production, from the mine to the end customer. SSAB aims to offer fossil-free steel at an industrial scale as early as 2026.
But it can only go so far on its own, Pei says. “The world is at a precipice of climate change. We have proven that there is a functioning technology to make fossil-free steel. But we cannot change the entire industry ourselves [SSAB accounts for about 0.5 percent of world market share]. Others need to act quickly also to keep the Paris Agreement goals alive.”
Accordingly, SSAB leaders want to support and inspire both steel producers and customers on their journey to zero emissions. SSAB has applied for patent of the Hybrit process, in order to make it available for other steelmakers.
“We have now shown with the HYBRIT technology that it is possible to produce steel at a large scale without emitting CO2. SSAB wants to inspire and support other steel producers to achieve climate neutrality. That is why SSAB has together with its partners filed for a portfolio of patents for HYBRIT, making the technology available to the world,” Pei says.
SSAB has also created an on-line knowledge sharing platform for those who want to know more about HYBRIT.
Buyers, too, must choose fossil-free steel to reduce emissions from the industry significantly. “Adding economic and environmental value to the business by investing in steel that creates zero carbon emissions during its production is just one factor,” Pei says. Switching to fossil-free steel represents an investment in improving the environment for future generations. And it should help the demand side of the equation that steel made with the new process has shown itself to be stronger and to age better than conventionally-produced steel.
To learn more about SSAB’s fossil-free steel process, link to the knowledge-sharing platform at ssab.com/fossil-free-steel.