greentec steel is contributing to a sustainable future 4 minutes spent reading
greentec steel

greentec steel is contributing to a sustainable future

Volkmar Held
As a freelance writer, Volkmar Held reports for voestalpine on topics that move people. The content of his stories ranges from archaeometallurgy to future technologies.

Switching from a coal-based process to green power is an essential step in achieving climate-neutral steel production. From 2027, the innovative voestalpine hybrid plan will allow us to focus on a set of measures that can reduce our CO2 emissions by around 30% to 2030.

Starting in 2027, we will also be producing steel in the new electric arc furnaces (EAFs) at each of our Linz and Donawitz sites. These EAFs will run on sustainably generated electricity, making a major contribution to reducing our carbon dioxide emissions in steel production by up to 30 percent. Construction of the EAFs will start in 2024—assuming the unresolved funding issues in Austria have been clarified by that date.

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Step by step from 2027

The EAF route uses electrical energy to melt scrap. This base material can be supplemented with pig iron or other iron carriers such as sponge iron. Sponge iron is an input material for steelmaking that consists of directly reduced iron ore with few impurities. It is produced using reformed natural gas or green hydrogen.

Thanks to our hybrid concept of producing crude steel in parallel using both routes, less pig iron has to be produced in the blast furnace. This reduces coke consumption and therefore CO2 emissions in Donawitz and Linz. The hybrid plan allows us to reduce emissions of this greenhouse gas by 3 to 4 million tons annually—an important milestone on the path to emission-free steel production.

Milestones from 2030

Starting in 2030, the plan is to replace two more blast furnaces in Linz and Donawitz and invest in an additional EAF in Linz.

The highly efficient EAFs melt scrap and sponge iron into crude steel. This offers a significant advantage in terms of emissions reduction: During the sponge iron production process, a reducing gas consisting of hydrogen and carbon monoxide reduces the ore to iron—direct reduced iron, or DRI. As hydrogen binds to the oxygen in the ore to form water, direct reduction releases less CO2 than in the blast furnace route; here this function is assumed by carbon in the form of coke and other carbon carriers which are blown into the furnace (pulverized coal, plastic waste).

Thanks to a long-term supply contract, we have secured an annual supply of 420,000 tons of DRI in the form of hot briquetted iron (HBI)—a basis for the further decarbonization of steel production in Linz and Donawitz (“greentec steel”). Our researchers are also working on developing other processes that can provide input materials for crude steel production based on different ore grades, such as HYFOR and SuSteel.


Meeting electricity requirements.

A significant factor in expanding the hybrid concept is the electricity requirements for the energy-intensive melting of scrap and HBI in the electric arc furnace. Consequently, if the EAFs in Donawitz and Linz are to take over their key role in the hybrid plan, they must be connected to a sufficiently powerful electricity grid. The basis for this is currently being established at both sites.

“Decarbonizing energy-intensive sectors such as the steel industry through electrification depends on the availability of renewable energies and corresponding infrastructure expansion, and, lastly, competitive prices. We need this supply. And it must be reliable and stable.”

Stefan E., Head Process Operator for electricity at voestalpine Stahl GmbH

The expansion of power supplies at our blast furnace sites is also important for another reason: When we smelt less iron ore in the blast furnace, we reduce the volume of blast furnace gas available to meet our internal power needs. And electricity will become a key energy supplier for the steel industry, both to operate electric arc furnaces, and for electrolysis to make the hydrogen needed to produce DRI.

Milestones by 2050

We want to achieve CO2 neutrality by 2050. Creating the preconditions needed for climate-neutral steel production by 2050 is a challenge not only for the steel industry, but for society as a whole. For the full significance of our hybrid plan can only be realized with the use of electricity generated from renewables. There can be no green steel without green electricity. The power consumed in electric arc furnaces will be far outstripped by the electricity needed for tomorrow’s hydrogen-based steel production route. In-house production of green hydrogen has proven successful in a pilot project at our company; the H2FUTURE plant on the premises of voestalpine Stahl GmbH in Linz has been using electrolysis to produce green hydrogen since 2019. But looking forward to 2050, it will only be possible to provide the quantities needed for a decarbonized steel industry with the support of a viable policy framework.

Volkmar Held