Sweden opens the world’s first sustainable steel plant

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has opened the first factory in the world where steel is made using hydrogen instead of coal. This happened in Lulea, in the far north on the border with Finland. In 20 years, Sweden will only want to produce sustainable steel.

It concerns a pilot plant owned by the Swedish-Finnish steel company SSAB, the iron ore producer LKAB and the energy company Vattenfall. Steel is normally produced with iron ore and Coke made from coal. It releases large amounts of CO2 that contribute to climate change. The hydrogen used in the Swedish steelworks is made using renewable electricity from, among other things, hydroelectric power.

The transition from coal to hydrogen in steel production is expected to reduce CO2 emissions in Sweden by 10% in the long term. The government therefore speaks of an historic day.

Developments in Sweden are being monitored with interest at Tata Steel – the former Blast Furnace. “I think it is wonderful that we are working on CO2 reduction in this way and we are looking at it with interest because we also want to switch to hydrogen in IJmuiden in the long term,” says Annemarie Manger, sustainability manager at Tata Steel. The company co-operates with the Chemical Company Nouryon and the Port Company Amsterdam on a 100 megawatts hydrogen factory. This is greater than what has been said so far in the Netherlands, but only supplies a fraction of Tata’s energy requirements.

That is why Tata does not think that hydrogen will play a major role in the short term in IJmuiden. Hydrogen is only sustainable if it is produced with sustainable electricity. “In the case of Tata Steel, that would mean that we need the electricity from about all the offshore wind farms that are currently being built off the Dutch coast,” says Manger. In addition, coal at present is not only fuel for the heating process in the blast furnaces, but oxidation of the Coke also provides the chemical compound which makes iron ore steel.

For the time being, Tata wants to reduce CO2 emissions using CCS, the abbreviation for carbon capture and storage. The CO2 is then captured by the salt and discharged via pipelines to empty natural gas fields under the North Sea. Over the next ten years, this technique will have to reduce CO2 emissions from the steel company from 12 million tonnes to 8 million tonnes. In the climate agreement, the Cabinet has made funding available for CCS, to the anger of Greenpeace, among others, who considers it a money-wasting delay in the energy transition.

Market research agency CE Delft, commissioned by the European Parliament to carry out research into the use of hydrogen in industry. ‘Within Europe, there is a great deal possible, especially when taxes are levied on less clean products imported from outside the EU. But it is still very expensive,” says director Frans Rooijers.

“You can see that, with the help of grants, new technologies are being developed, but it is an illusion to think that to be able to compete with fossil fuels as long as they are so cheap, and the real costs of climate change are not taken into account.”In Sweden and Norway, sustainable electricity is relatively cheap due to the availability of hydropower.

It may therefore be a while before sustainable steel is produced in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, Annemarie Manger of Tata Steel calls the development in Sweden revolutionary. “It is a first step in a major development.”

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