Innovation That Matters

This candle holder is the first object made from the fossil-free steel. According to its designer, the softly pleated rays beaming out from the candle symbolise the light at the end of the tunnel. | Photo source SSAB

The world’s first-fossil-fuel-free steel


A partnership between a steel producer and a mining company has resulted in a new method for manufacturing steel without the use of CO2-producing coal

Spotted: Steel is everywhere, but it is also a huge polluter. Steel production accounts for around 8 per cent of global CO2 emissions. This means that all the electric vehicles and green buildings which use steel are still contributing huge amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. Now, a solution may be in sight. Swedish steel company SSAB has partnered with mining company LKAB and the Swedish government to create a process that eliminates the use of fossil fuels in steel production. 

Traditionally, steel is made using coal to fire the blast furnaces where the iron ore is melted. At the same time, the carbon in the coal binds with oxygen in the molten ore to purify the iron and then mixes with the pure iron to form steel. The problem is that when oxygen and carbon meet, they create a considerable amount of CO2. SSAB’s new process uses an electric oven instead of a coal blast furnace, and hydrogen takes the place of carbon to capture the oxygen in the iron ore. The by-product of this process is water, instead of CO2. 

The new process has been dubbed HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology). However, it still uses a lot of energy. So, although it is greener, it only reduces the overall emissions from steel production by around 20 per cent. To reduce this further, the energy used in the HYBRIT process will also need to come from green sources. 

Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO of SSAB, points out that this is just the first step in creating a fossil-fuel-free steel industry. “The first fossil-free steel in the world is not only a breakthrough for SSAB, it represents proof that it’s possible to make the transition and significantly reduce the global carbon footprint of the steel industry. We hope that this will inspire others to also want to speed up the green transition.” 

Due to global warming, it has become imperative to find a way of eliminating the pollution generated by the mining of iron ore and the burning of coal to produce steel. At Springwise, we have seen this urgency reflected in a number of innovations. Some are focusing on eliminating or reduce the use of steel by substituting other materials, while others refocus on reducing the use of steel and of construction waste. 

Written By: Lisa Magloff

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