The Swedish Energy Agency (SEA) is to finance a four-year research project initiated by SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall and designed to create a carbon-dioxide-free steel industry.

The three main players – steelmaker SSAB, minerals company LKAB and Swedish electricity generator Vattenfall – have announced the formation of a corporate joint venture in the spring to spur on the initiative.

In total, funding of SEK102 million will be available for the project.

According to Jan Moström, CEO and group manager of LKAB, the decision by the Swedish Energy Agency to fund the project is a ‘real inspiration’ while Martin Lindqvist, CEO and group manager of SSAB described it as ‘very exciting news’. Magnus Hall, CEO and group manager of power generator Vattenfall called it ‘extremely positive news’.

The SEA’s decision to provide additional funding on top of its initial SEK7.7 million (US$853,000) will open the door for new research projects by organisations such at KTH, Lulea University of Technology, SWEREA MEFOS, Lund University, Stockholm Environmental Institute and RISE, all of whom will work towards a carbon-dioxide-free steel industry.

Processes such as fossil fuel-free pellet manufacturing, hydrogen-based direct reduction, and the use of sponge iron in electric arc furnaces will all be scrutinised by the research project. Providing an electrical power supply source for hydrogen manufacturing and storage will also be examined.

The funding is broken down into two chunks of money: SEK56 million (US$6.2 million) from the SEA; and the remaining SEK46 million (US$5 million) coming from SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall.

Erik Brandsma, director general of SEA said one of the biggest challenges faced with global warming is reducing industrial use of fossil fuels. “Investigating how to replace coal and coke with hydrogen in the Swedish iron and steel industries is both an obligation and a unique global opportunity to improve our competitiveness in the future,” he said.

The project covers three phases with a pre-feasibility study running through to the end of 2017 followed by research and testing in a pilot plant through 2024, which involves carrying out testing in a full-scale demo plant through 2035.

According to SSAB, “Sweden is ideally suited for this type of initiative with its specialised, innovative steel industry, access to fossil fuel-free electrical power, and Europe’s highest quality iron ore.”