A vision becomes reality: decarbonization of steel production 2 minutes spent reading

A vision becomes reality: decarbonization of steel production

Michael Leithinger

voestalpine is taking a major step towards the decarbonization of its steel production with the start of H2FUTURE.

In 2015 the United Nations’ Paris Agreement set the world ambitious goals: by 2050 CO2 emissions should be reduced by 80% to 95%, creating an almost completely CO2-free economy. These goals accord with the European Union’s own 2050 vision, which has also set out ambitious energy and climate goals to 2030. These ambitions face the power generation and energy-intensive industries, above all, with huge challenges.

A tradition of CO2 reduction

The steel industry is one of the world’s most energy-intensive industries, making it one of the largest purely process-related emitters of CO2. Its global share of CO2 emissions lies at around 7%, or a third of industrial emissions.

However, the industry has long been intensively researching into decarbonization technologies. For example, together with other steel producers in the ULCOS project, voestalpine has been researching into capturing carbon dioxide from the production process and storing it in underground deposits. However, implementation of actual Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) projects is politically not universally feasible–it has failed to achieve public acceptance and is obstructed by differences in national regulations.

Consequently, voestalpine, like other EU steel producers, has adopted the policy of Carbon Direct Avoidance (CDA), i.e. long-term options for applying new technologies which prevent CO2 emissions from being created in the first place. Here the focus lies on the application and use of hydrogen in order to gradually replace coal and coke.

Breakthrough technologies are required

For decades voestalpine has been regarded as the environmental and efficiency benchmark for the industry. By consistently optimizing its processes and plants, the Group has also reduced its own specific CO2 emissions (i.e. as measured by the quantity of crude steel produced) to almost the lowest level technically possible–by almost a quarter over the past three decades. In the global worldsteel ranking, voestalpine with its plant in Linz comes in third place in terms of global CO2 balance.

However, the potential for further substantial savings in the traditional blast furnace LD route has been almost completely exploited. The major steps needed to achieve the climate goals will only be possible in future by using “breakthrough technologies”, such as hydrogen-based processes. In addition to the metallurgical challenges involved in research, development and upscaling to an industrial scale, the primary concern is where to source “green hydrogen”, i.e. hydrogen produced via electrolysis powered by electricity generated from renewables.

This is the question being addressed by the H2FUTURE project, as well as the potential offered by green hydrogen for the long-term development of breakthrough technologies such as hydrogen plasma smelting reduction which is currently the subject of research at Donawitz.

"voestalpine is consistently striving to gradually decarbonize steel production, to move away from coal via bridging technologies over the long term, primarily those based on natural gas, and towards the potential use of CO2-neutral hydrogen, even though this pathway will be a very long and complicated one, probably taking us up to around 2035."
Wolfgang Eder