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Environment Glossary

From decarbonization to “green” hydrogen: this glossary explains the key terms used when talking about environment & sustainability at the voestalpine Group.    

  • voestalpine is committed to the climate goals as set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and is following a consistent, long-term strategy to directly avoid CO2 emissions. The Group has already started several research and development programs with that aim.  

    However, until these technologies are available, the Group is planning an intermediate step using hybrid technology, i.e., making a gradual shift from the coal-based blast furnace route to steel production using electricity. This should allow CO2 emissions to be reduced by around a third—i.e., 3 to 4 million tons annually—after 2030.

    voestalpine plans to gradually increase the share of hydrogen and renewables over the long term, with the aim of reducing its CO2 emissions by over 80% by 2050. An important factor is the long-term economic feasibility of such technologies, which is not yet the case.

  • Corporate responsibility (CR) is a company’s accountability for the impact of its business activities on society, its employees, the natural and the business environment. Corporate responsibility is an integral part of the voestalpine Group’s corporate strategy and culture. Responsible management considers aspects including risk management, the environment & ecology, employees, society & culture, and research & development. The seriousness with which voestalpine takes its economic, social, and ecological responsibilities is also laid out in the Group’s annual Corporate Responsibility Report.

    As an industry pioneer in environmental protection, voestalpine is continually implementing new measures to reduce resource consumption in steel production, as well as following a long-term decarbonization strategy. The Group also actively helps to protect the climate through its products which include lightweight construction steels for the automotive industry, fully digital rail infrastructure systems, and innovative steel solutions for renewable energy generation. Furthermore, voestalpine prioritizes responsible and transparent supply chain management. Lastly, the Group’s focus on sustainability is also mirrored in its placing of a syndicated sustainability loan, with its interest rate linked, amongst others, to its sustainability performance. The Group has also been included in the respected international sustainability index FTSE4Good.

  • Decarbonization is the sustained reduction of carbon, an element which significantly contributes to global warming by combining to form carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, during the combustion process. The term gained prominence following the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement which established a global framework for combatting climate change.

    A fundamental requirement for creating a future climate-neutral global economy is to decarbonize energy-intensive industries such as the steel industry, one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2. For that reason, the voestalpine Group is following a long-term, phased decarbonization strategy which aims to achieve CO2-neutral steel production by 2050 by successively replacing coal with so-called “green hydrogen.” An intermediate step, using a hybrid technology to bridge between the existing coal-based blast furnace route and the final, direct reduction route using an electric arc furnace, should allow CO2 emissions to be reduced by around a third between 2030 and 2035.

  • Direct reduction is an important bridging technology for decarbonizing steel production. It reduces iron ore to iron with natural gas, rather than coal and coke, resulting in fewer CO2 emissions. The direct reduction process is used to produce HBI (Hot Briquetted Iron), a sophisticated and environmentally friendly pre-material in steel production. HBI can replace coke and ore in a blast furnace, and scrap in an electric arc furnace.

    Another advantage of the direct reduction process is that the process gases can be recycled, and the heat generated during production recovered. voestalpine has been operating a direct reduction plant in Texas, USA, since 2016. The long-term goal is to use hydrogen rather than natural gas to produce “green” HBI at the site, and then to use the HBI in electric arc furnaces to achieve CO2-neutral steel production by 2050. 

  • The electrolysis of water is the process of using electricity (generated from renewables) to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen. One relatively recent and highly innovative technology of this type is PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolysis in which a proton-conducting membrane separates the areas in which oxygen and hydrogen form. Electrodes made from special steel are fixed to either side of the membrane and connected to the positive and negative terminals on the power supply. This is where the water is split.

    This PEM technology is used in what is currently the world’s largest hydrogen pilot facility, which commenced operations on voestalpine premises in fall 2019. As part of the EU-funded H2FUTURE project, partners voestalpine, VERBUND, Siemens, Austrian Power Grid, K1-MET, and TNO are researching into the industrial production of green hydrogen which is intended to replace fossil fuels in steel production over the long term. With a capacity of 6 megawatts, the Siemens “Silyzer 300” PEM electrolysis module can produce 1,200 m³ of “green” hydrogen an hour. This is significantly more than in comparable plants to date. The hydrogen can be stored for use in a multitude of applications: as a raw material in industry, as seen in Linz, but also as a fuel for mobility and as an energy source in electricity and gas supply.

     

  • In 2015 the United Nations’ Paris Agreement set the world ambitious goals: to limit global warming to significantly less than 2 degrees—ideally 1.5 degrees—above pre-industrial levels. Additionally, countries are expected to enhance their ability to adapt to climate change and to organize global financial flows to support climate protection.

    The climate goals for the EU are set out in the European Green Deal, requiring the EU Member States to effectively become CO2-neutral by 2050. Accordingly, there is great pressure on Europe’s steel industry, which plays a key role in the climate debate by currently accounting for more than 6% of total EU CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. The voestalpine Group has clearly committed to achieving these goals and is already working at full speed to develop technical scenarios which will drive decarbonization of the steel production process at its sites in Linz and Donawitz.

  • CO2-neutral (“green”) hydrogen is seen as a promising future option for almost entirely decarbonizing energy-intensive sectors such as the steel industry. Hydrogen is completely CO2-neutral when produced using green electricity, i.e., electricity generated using water, wind, or solar power. Throughout Europe today, all the industrial sectors which rely on fossil fuels, and especially steel producers, are working at full speed on projects to develop processes driven by green hydrogen.

    voestalpine is regarded as a pioneer in this field in view of all its research activities, especially the EU-funded H2FUTURE project with partners VERBUND, Siemens, Austrian Power Grid, K1-MET, and TNO. The world’s largest and most advanced PEM (proton exchange membrane) electrolysis facility to date has been erected at the voestalpine premises in Linz. It will be used to test the industrial-scale generation of green hydrogen and its subsequent use in the various phases of steel production, as well as in other industrial sectors.

    voestalpine is also conducting research at a testing facility in Donawitz into a technology to produce steel directly from iron ore, as part of the Sustainable Steel (SuSteel) project. Here, in a type of electric arc furnace, steel is produced without going through the crude steel stage, by using hydrogen plasma to reduce iron ore. voestalpine Stahl Donawitz has also joined Primetals Technologies to conduct research into a procedure to reduce iron ore in a fluidized form using hydrogen. A testing facility is currently under construction. Together with the Montanuniversität Leoben, voestalpine is also part of an industrial consortium evaluating technologies for the pyrolysis of natural gas. This would enable the CO2-neutral generation of carbon, a valuable industrial raw material, and hydrogen.

  • Over the long term, voestalpine is striving to successively raise the proportion of green hydrogen used in the steel production process, thereby reducing its total CO2 emissions by more than 80% by 2050. However, until these technologies are available, voestalpine is planning an intermediate step using hybrid technology, i.e., making a gradual shift from the coal-based blast furnace route to steel production using electricity.

    This is achieved using pig iron and scrap, together with sponge iron (Hot Briquetted Iron, HBI), a sophisticated pre-material which voestalpine is already producing in its direct reduction plant in Texas using natural gas, and thus with fewer CO2 emissions.

    The significant innovation is the raw materials mix, with its increased proportion of HBI. Over the long term, it should be possible to use “green” HBI (produced using hydrogen rather than natural gas) and scrap to produce the same high-quality steel grades as today.

    A hybrid approach such as this would allow CO2 emissions from steel production at the Linz and Donawitz sites to be reduced by around a third after 2030.

  • The Linz-Donawitz process (LD process) developed by voestalpine in 1952 revolutionized steel manufacturing and is used in around 70 percent of global steel production to this day. The LD process involves blowing pure oxygen over liquid pig iron. This facilitates and accelerates the combustion of pig iron companion elements such as carbon, phosphorus, and sulfur. The key feature of steel produced using the LD process is its purity, allowing it to be 100% recycled with no loss of quality.

    voestalpine’s first series of tests which finally culminated in the LD process began in the late 1940s. On November 27, 1952, the world’s first LD steelmaking plant went into operation on the site of today’s voestalpine AG, with a second plant opening in Donawitz on May 22, 1953. At a stroke, the “invention of the century” revolutionized the global steel industry and created the foundations for the voestalpine Group’s metallurgical leadership, as well as its consistent focus on quality and technology.

  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an instrument for assessing the environmental impact of a product over its entire service life, starting from raw materials extraction, including its production, and right through to the end of its operating life (e.g., recycling). 

    The LCA approach illustrates the ecological advantages offered by steel: products made from steel are not only durable, they can also be reused and repaired, extending their service life. At the end of a product’s life cycle—for example, a car—the steel can be reintroduced into the production cycle in the form of scrap.

    Worldwide, around 600 million tons of steel scrap is recycled each year. The voestalpine Group is one example, using more than 25% scrap in its steel production. This is significantly higher than the European average of 19%, and more than twice as much as in China.

  • voestalpine is a global technology leader in the production of ultra-high strength and simultaneously lightweight body parts for the automotive industry. One advantage of lightweight body parts is that they help to reduce vehicle fuel consumption, in turn lowering CO2 emissions. Lightweight construction also plays an important role in e-mobility, extending vehicle range by compensating for the heavy battery weight.

    voestalpine has already set new global standards in the production of lightweight components with increased corrosion resistance and improved crash performance with its novel phs technology—hot-dip galvanized steel strip processed into press-hardened body parts. With phs facilities in China, the USA, and Germany, the Group is excellently positioned in key markets. Furthermore, voestalpine Automotive Components GmbH in Linz is both the world’s largest production site and a global technology leader for laser-welded high-tech blanks for the automotive industry, where they are mainly processed into stiffeners and cross-members, A, B and C pillars, and inside door and floor components.

  • Metal additive manufacturing—or 3D printing in metal—uses digital design data to build complex components, layer by layer. The process permits the construction of components with completely new shapes and functionalities. In contrast to traditional production processes such as turning and milling from a single block of metal, additive manufacturing involves no material losses. The raw material for metal additive manufacturing is metal powder, prepared according to the specific properties required by the component, e.g., special steel, tool steel, nickel-based, titanium, or cobalt-chromium alloys. Additive manufacturing in metal offers enormous potential, especially in industries with a high demand for extremely technically demanding, customized production, such as aviation and aerospace, the automotive industry, and the oil & gas industry. Another field of application for voestalpine is tools, whose design can be optimized for their specific use. This results in longer service lifetimes and reduced scrap rates compared to conventional tools, making additive manufacturing a particularly sustainable form of production.

    In 2016, voestalpine laid the foundations for applying additive manufacturing as a production technology within the Group by establishing the voestalpine Additive Manufacturing Center in Düsseldorf, a research and development center for 3D printing in metal. Sites in Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, the USA, and China have followed. Today, with its extensive expertise covering everything from the manufacture of metal powder to component design, and including the production of ready-to-install assemblies, voestalpine is a global frontrunner in 3D printing in metal.

  • At both European and national level, the current climate debate primarily revolves around political targets for reducing CO2 emissions. In addition to the question of how steel will be produced in the long run, there also needs to be a focus on the contribution that steel already makes to sustainability. According to a study by the German Steel Federation (Wirtschaftsvereinigung Stahl) and the Boston Consulting Group on behalf of the EU28, high-tech steel used in lightweight automotive construction, more efficient electric motors, and power plant turbines, or in generating renewable energies such as wind power, saves six times as much energy—and thus CO2—than is used in its production. That makes steel an essential element in a “sustainable” world.

    Steel is able to demonstrate its strengths in e-mobility especially, because here every kilogram counts, not just in determining battery reach, but also stability, and hence safety. This requires the use of ultra-light and high-strength steels, particularly for body parts. However, components such as battery housings which are specific to electric vehicles are also highly safety relevant. Consequently, suppliers in the steel industry are required to meet extremely stringent specifications, particularly in terms of crash behavior.

    At both European and national level, the current climate debate primarily revolves around political targets for reducing CO2 emissions. In addition to the question of how steel will be produced in the long run, there also needs to be a focus on the contribution that steel already makes to sustainability. According to a study by the German Steel Federation (Wirtschaftsvereinigung Stahl) and the Boston Consulting Group on behalf of the EU28, high-tech steel used in lightweight automotive construction, more efficient electric motors, and power plant turbines, or in generating renewable energies such as wind power, saves six times as much energy—and thus CO2—than is used in its production. That makes steel an essential element in a “sustainable” world.

    Steel is able to demonstrate its strengths in e-mobility especially, because here every kilogram counts, not just in determining battery reach, but also stability, and hence safety. This requires the use of ultra-light and high-strength steels, particularly for body parts. However, components such as battery housings which are specific to electric vehicles are also highly safety relevant. Consequently, suppliers in the steel industry are required to meet extremely stringent specifications, particularly in terms of crash behavior.