Coke – the result of the chemical gasification of coal – is currently used in the blast furnaces of listed steel company SSAB in Luleå and Oxelösund to remove oxygen from iron oxide to make iron.
The use of coke gives rise to large carbon dioxide emissions.
Vattenfall is now joining SSAB and minerals group LKAB, which also uses fossil fuels such as coal and gas in the pre-treatment of iron ore, to carry out a preliminary study of the possibilities of replacing coke with hydrogen in iron production.
The advantage of hydrogen is that instead of carbon dioxide it merely leaves behind water as a residual product.
Vattenfall’s CEO Magnus Hall took part together with representatives from SSAB and LKAB and Enterprise and Innovation Minister Mikael Damberg (S) today (4 April) in a press conference in which the cooperative project was presented.
“It’s very satisfying to take part in an initiative to future-proof one of Sweden’s key industries by replacing fossil fuels in steel production with carbon-dioxide-free electricity. Here we can see the beginning of a really interesting and climate-neutral development project which benefits our partners, Vattenfall, Sweden and not least the climate,” says Magnus Hall.
One way of producing hydrogen is via electrolysis, whereby renewable electricity is used to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Mikael Nordlander, R&D Portfolio Manager at Vattenfall, says that there is currently no example of hydrogen production via electrolysis on the scale that would be required to supply SSAB’s blast furnaces with the required quantities.
“Hydrogen has never been produced on the scale that we’re talking about here.”
Hydrogen production requires a lot of energy and highly provisional estimates show that the need for renewable electricity can be up to 20 TWh annually in the Nordic region.
“To put this figure into perspective, Ringhals produces 28 TWh annually,” explains Mikael Nordlander and says that Vattenfall’s role will mainly be in the discussions in the introduction of the project.
“We will carry out an analysis of the energy system. A large consumer needs to be offset by a corresponding level of output if we are to have a balanced system. We will need more flexibility. Should we, for example, use hydro power to meet the need? We would then lose some of our regulation capability at the same time. Another interesting idea would be to have the same flexibility in hydrogen production as well.”
The preliminary study is estimated to last a year and a half and to be followed by a research and development programme within a pilot project.
In theory, the technology could be introduced at the beginning of the 2030s.
At the same time we know that four nuclear reactors will be shut down in the early 2020s. How then will the supply be able to meet the demand?
“This calls for a large-scale expansion of renewable generation capacity in Sweden and a rational utilisation of nuclear energy during its remaining lifetime, without a doubt. But we have an extremely strong balance in the system today. Sweden exported more than 20 TWh of electricity in 2015. We have a good starting position and we have time on our side. But it’s certainly a challenge,” says Mikael Nordlander and points out that it’s no good staring blindly at the amount of energy in the system.
“It’s also important to review the output situation so that the system does not go off the rails.”
Leading the trend
The Swedish governing parties recently announced that the country is to have a 100 per cent renewable electricity system within 20 years. At the same time, Vattenfall’s mission is “to generate a market rate of return by running its energy operations so that it becomes a leader of developments towards environmentally sustainable energy generation”.
“Selling the German lignite operations is a part of this process. Another one is that we in Sweden with our CO2-free electricity can help others to become more sustainable. The steel industry is one example, e-mobility is another.”
Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall, SSAB’s Martin Lindqvist and Mikael Damberg, Swedish minister for enterprise and innovation, comment the initiative to produce CO2-free steel.