HYBRIT – breakthrough coke/coal-free ironmaking

Swedish steelmaker SSAB AB, iron-ore pellet producer LKAB and energy supplier Vattenfall AB have taken a decisive step toward fossil-free ironmaking with the start-up of HYBRIT’s globally unique pilot plant for the production of fossil-free sponge iron this week. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven started up the plant together with the top representatives of the three companies.

The SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall joint venture aim to create a complete value chain for fossil-free steel hoping to rewrite the rules of steel production took a major step forward.

Four years ago, SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall joined forces to create HYBRIT – an initiative that endeavours to revolutionize steel-making. HYBRIT aims to replace coking coal, traditionally needed for ore-based steel making, with hydrogen. The result will be the world’s first fossil-free steel-making technology, with virtually no carbon footprint.

During 2018, work started on the construction of the pilot plant for fossil-free steel production in Luleå, Sweden. The goal is to have an industrial-scale solution for fossil-free steel by 2035. If successful, HYBRIT can reduce Sweden’s CO2 emissions by 10% and Finland’s by 7%, as well as contributing to cutting steel industry emissions in Europe and globally.. 

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.

Tests will be carried out between 2020 and 2024, first using natural gas and then hydrogen to be able to compare production results. The framework for HYBRIT also includes a full-scale effort to replace fossil oil with bio oil in one of LKAB’s existing pellet plants in Malmberget in a test period extending until 2021.

Preparations are also under way to build a test hydrogen storage facility on LKAB’s land in Svartöberget in Luleå, near the pilot plant.
At present, the steelmaking generates 7% of world’s total carbon-dioxide emissions. With HYBRIT, the joint venture aims 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 carbon dioxide.

“Right now, we have a historic opportunity to do things that provide jobs here and now – but also hasten the climate transition that everyone realises 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 Löfven.

“This inauguration concretises 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, Minister for Environment and Climate.

“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 revolutionise the entire steel industry and show that net-zero emissions is possible. We must seize this chance,” commented Deputy Prime Minister, Martin Lindqvist.

“I am delighted that today we can start up the plant together with the realisation 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 President and CEO of SSAB, Jan Moström.

“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,” explained Magnus Hall, President and CEO of Vattenfall.

Watch this space for the detailed description of the HYBRIT technology.

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