SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall have produced the world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron at a pilot scale. The technological breakthrough in the HYBRIT initiative captures around 90% of emissions in conjunction with steelmaking and is a decisive step on the road to fossil-free steel, claims the Scandinavian steelmaker.

The HYBRIT pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden has demonstrated that it is possible to use fossil-free hydrogen gas to reduce iron ore instead of using coal and coke to remove the oxygen. According to SSAB, production has been continuous and of good quality. Around 100 tonnes have been made so far.

SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, the three owners, launched the HYBRIT initiative in 2016. The pilot plant for the test production of sponge iron started operation on August 31, 2020 and on March 24, 2021, Gällivare was chosen for the site of the planned demonstration plant for the production of fossil-free sponge iron at an industrial scale.

SSAB claims that this is the first time ever that hydrogen made with fossil-free electricity has been used in the direct reduction of iron ore at a pilot scale. The goal in principle is to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the steelmaking process by using only fossil-free feedstock and fossil-free energy in all parts of the value chain.

Hydrogen-based reduction, says SSAB, is a critical milestone, which paves the way for future fossil-free iron- and steelmaking. SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall intend, through HYBRIT, to create the most efficient value chain from the mine to steel, with the aim of being first to market, in 2026, with fossil-free steel at an industrial scale.

Last year, HYBRIT, a joint initiative of SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, began test operations to make hydrogen-reduced sponge iron in the pilot plant built with support from the Swedish Energy Agency. The technology is being constantly developed and the sponge iron that has been successfully made using hydrogen technology is the feedstock for the fossil-free steel of the future.

“This is a major breakthrough both for us and for the entire iron and steel industry. LKAB is the future supplier of sponge iron and this is a critical step in the right direction. Progress with HYBRIT enables us to maintain the pace in our transition and already in 2026, we will begin the switch to industrial-scale production with the first demonstration plant in Gällivare, Sweden. Once LKAB has converted its entire production to sponge iron, we will enable the transition of the steel industry and reduce global emissions by around 35 million tonnes a year, which corresponds to two thirds of Sweden’s entire emissions. This is the greatest action we can take together for the good of the climate.”

Jan Moström, president and CEO at LKAB.

SSAB's president and CEO, Martin Lindqvist, described this latest technological breakthrough as 'a critical step on the road to fossil-free steel'. He argued that he potential cannot be underestimated. According to Lindqvist, it means that climate goals in Sweden and Finland will be reached and will contribute to reducing emissions across Europe. It will also create new jobs and export successes, he added.

"SSAB’s transition means we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in Sweden and 7% in Finland. High-strength fossil-free steel will also allow us to help our customers to strengthen their competitiveness. As early as this year, we will deliver minor quantities of steel made using hydrogen-based reduction to customers, and in 2026 we will deliver fossil-free steel at a large scale.”

Martin Lindqvist, president and CEO at SSAB.

The hydrogen used in the direct reduction process is generated by electrolysis of water with fossil-free electricity, and can be used immediately or stored for later use, claims SSAB. In May, HYBRIT began work on building a pilot-scale hydrogen storage facility adjacent to the direct reduction pilot plant in Luleå.

"The breakthrough that we can announce today shows in a very real way how electrification contributes to enabling a fossil-free life within a generation.”

Anna Borg, President and CEO at Vattenfall.

Borg said that Sweden’s and Vattenfall’s fossil-free electricity is a basic requirement for the low carbon footprint of hydrogen-reduced sponge iron.