De-carbonising the steel production process is, if you like, the holy grail for steelmakers globally and one company that is streets ahead in terms of developing a carbon-free steel manufacturing process is the Austrian company, Voestalpine.

The Government of Upper Austria has now authorised the construction of the world’s largest pilot plant of its type for CO2-free production of hydrogen. The plant in question will be in Linz and now that permission has been granted, developing the plant can begin.

According to voestalpine, “Gaining official approval is the starting signal for building the new hydrogen electrolysis plant at the voestalpine premises in Linz.”

The project, known as H2 Future, is funded to the tune of EUR 18 million by the European Union. The aim is to explor the potential use of hydrogen in the individual stages of steel production.

Wolfgang Eder, chairman of the management board of voestalpine AG, commented: “In view of the EU’s 2030 climate and energy goals, both industry and utilities face enormous energy-related challenges which demand fundamental technological changes. For years voestalpine has been taking steps towards gradually de-carbonising the steel production process. This hydrogen pilot plant is finally paving the way for research into the true breakthrough technologies.”

He added that a technological transformation can only take place when renewable energy is sufficiently available and at competitive prices.

The long term goal is to move away from using coal and coke, via ‘bridging technology’ based on natural gas to use ‘green’ hydrogen in the production process.

The pilot plant will be located close to voestalpine’s power plant in Linz.

Individual plant components will be delivered in the summer and testing should take place before the year end.

As for the plant itself, the centrepiece of the new research facility will be a 6MW proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyser, capable of producing 1,200m3 of hydrogen per hour. It was developed by Siemens and is claimed to be capable of producing a much higher output than comparable systems to date.

The H2Future project is a collaboration between voestalpine, VERBUND, Siemens, the Austrian Power Grid, K1-Met (Metallurgical Competence Centre) and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN).

The project is funded by the EU through to 2021.