Steel production and offshore wind energy are two areas that are increasingly dependent on each other. There will be no windmills without steel, while there will be no “green” steel without RES production and zero-emission hydrogen. Sweden has taken the first steps in carbon-free steelmaking, and it is a country that could become a leader in the Baltic Sea region in this area. By developing offshore windmills, the potential of Sweden can be realized.

While steel is most often associated with the heavy industrial sector, this product is a key component of offshore wind farms. Steel is used for towers, transition pieces, offshore substations or foundations. Windmills driven into the seabed (for monopile foundations) require thicker sheets, up to 150 mm thick. CRU Group estimates that 15-20 percent of European demand for plates for reversing mills. Experts predict that this rate will rise to 25 percent over the next five years due to the development of offshore windmills around the world. This raises many challenges for steelmakers. It is critical to ensure security of supply and reduce the carbon footprint in the supply chain to make offshore wind fully sustainable.

HYBRIT

Investors and manufacturers in the offshore wind energy sector in Europe, including the Baltic Sea region, can bet on leveraging regional potential. That includes, amongst others, Sweden and the HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology) project that has been underway since 2016. SSAB (a steel producer), LKAB (an iron ore producer in Europe) and Vattenfall (an energy company) have formed HYBRIT to jointly develop a fossil fuel-free value chain for iron and steel production using carbon-free electricity and hydrogen, thereby minimizing carbon emissions throughout the value chain.

HYBRIT technology replaces the blast furnace process, which uses coal and coke to remove oxygen from iron ore, with a direct reduction process that uses hydrogen produced from water without the use of fossil fuels and electricity from RES. Instead of carbon dioxide, water vapor is produced.

The first pieces of emission-free steel have already been delivered to customers. In June 2021, the three companies were able to present the world’s first hydrogen-reduced iron sample, produced at the HYBRIT pilot plant in Luleå. In July 2021, SSAB Oxelösund successfully rolled the first steel produced with HYBRIT technology, i.e. using 100 percent hydrogen instead of coal and coke. The steel was delivered to the first customer, Volvo Group.

The goal of HYBRIT is to bring fossil fuel-free steel to the market in 2026 and demonstrate the technology on an industrial scale. Using HYBRIT technology, SSAB can potentially reduce total carbon dioxide emissions in Sweden by at least 10 percent and in Finland by 7 percent.

H2 Green Steel

Another project is H2 Green Steel (H2GS), which will be a large-scale steel producer based on a fossil fuel-free production process targeting large European OEMs. The H2GS plant will be located in the Boden-Luleå region in northern Sweden, which offers unique conditions for fossil fuel-free steel production. The project will build a giant-scale green hydrogen plant as an integral part of the steel production facility. Production will begin in 2024, and by 2030 H2GS will have an annual production capacity of 5 million tons of high-quality steel.

H2GS looks forward to working closely with the founders of HYBRIT, sharing their vision of placing Sweden at the forefront of fossil fuel-free steel production. H2GS also builds on the experiences and lessons learned from the creation of Northvolt. The business model is based on close partnerships with strategic customers, including deep collaboration in product development, process technology, recycling strategy, and logistics. The total financing for the first phase of the project is approximately €2.5 billion, which will be raised through a combination of equity and green project financing.

In addition, it is worth mentioning that H2 Green Steel (H2GS) and Iberdrola, a world-leading renewable energy company based in Spain, announced a partnership in December 2021 to build a 1 GW plant to produce green hydrogen. The new plant will produce and supply green hydrogen with a volume of 2 million tons, enabling Green Steel to produce green steel while reducing CO2 emissions by 95 percent.

The plant will be located on the Iberian Peninsula, where several possible sites are currently under consideration, and production is scheduled to begin in 2025 or 2026. All of the sites that H2 Green Steel and Iberdrola are evaluating will have access to cost-effective renewable electricity and the infrastructure necessary to successfully operate a green hydrogen, iron and steel business. The plant will be located on the Iberian Peninsula, where several possible sites are currently under consideration.

Sweden has the potential to become a pioneer in organic steel production

Despite its modest share of steel production in the region, Sweden is emerging as a leader in the global race to produce fossil fuel-free steel on a commercial scale. The two initiatives HYBRIT and H2 Green Steel, separately, were launched to produce 10 Mt of crude steel per year by 2030.

– The country boasts Europe’s largest iron ore reserves and excellent renewable energy resources – two prerequisites for producing green hydrogen and carbon-free crude steel, explains Wood Mackenzie principal analyst, Sohaib Malik.

Alkaline electrolysis technology is likely to play a key role in the production of green hydrogen, which is crucial for the production of green steel in Sweden.