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Research with Hybrit technology in focus

Published: 9 October 2020

The Hybrit technology can make Sweden the first in the world to deliver fossil-free steel. Luleå University of Technology participates in research on hydrogen-based steel production within Hybrit.

– Hybrit is a unique project, so we are very pleased that we were asked to participate in three of a total of six work packages within the research program funded by the Swedish Energy Agency, Bo Björkman, says, professor of Process Metallurgy at Luleå University of Technology and project manager.

From fossil coal to hydrogen

For those who takes the sea route from Luleå center towards the outer archipelago, the white Hybrit facility towers appears like a lighthouse on the old ore quay at Svartön's industrial area. The wall sign: Fossil-free steel, talks about the goal of the facility. Svartökajen, which was once built for shipping ore in Luleå and for receiving coal, now houses a unique pilot plant, the first in the world, which will replace the old fossil coal as a reducing agent in steel production, with fossil-free hydrogen.

– It is very important for Luleå University of Technology that we are part of the Hybrit project. As in all research projects with industry, we both add knowledge and learn new things, Bo Björkman, says.

One of the he biggest technology shift in iron and steel industry

Hybrit is about sharply reducing carbon dioxide emissions in Swedish iron and steel production. The long-term climate goal in Sweden means that we will have no Greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, at the same time as 100 percent of electricity production must be renewable. SSAB is Sweden's single largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas. In order to survive while maintaining large-scale production, the iron and steel industry must undergo a change in technology. Hydrogen instead of coal to reduce LKAB's iron ore to iron is one of the largest technology shift in the iron and steel industry and is today seen as the single most important solution for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Hybrit- a cooperation between SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall

Hybrit is an investment by the steel manufacturer SSAB, the mining and mineral group LKAB and the energy company Vattenfall to find technical and economic solutions for an industrial hydrogen-based iron and steel production. To get there, collaboration with researchers at Luleå University of Technology, among others, is needed.

– Hydrogen instead of coal as a reducing agent is an alternative for reducing Greenhouse gas emissions from iron and steel production, and the one that today has the greatest potential to achieve a completely fossil-free steel production. But to achieve this requires major changes in energy systems, iron ore processing and steel production, markets and politics. It is a system change where the industry must work together with a number of societal actors, Bo Björkman, says.

Hydrogen separates the iron from the oxygen

In Luleå, SSAB manufactures iron ore-based steel from iron ore pellets from LKAB. Fossil coal is heated in furnaces at the coking plant and converted into gas and coke. The coke goes to the blast furnace where carbon reacts with oxygen in the iron ore, so that liquid pig iron is formed; the ore is reduced to iron. This blast furnace process is the dominant source of carbon dioxide emissions. It is in comparison to the blast furnace process that the Hybrit technology with hydrogen will revolutionize ironmaking. Fossil-free hydrogen instead of carbon will separate the iron from the oxygen in the ore, through so-called direct reduction. Carbon dioxide gas emissions will then be equal to zero.

– Producing metal with the help of hydrogen is not new, but to put together all the process parts and make it an industrially functioning concept for iron and steel production, and get economy in it, that is unique. This means a major conversion of the production chain from iron ore to steel and also has a major impact on the electricity system, as the production of hydrogen on the scale that will be required, will result in a sharp increase in electricity consumption, Bo Björkman, says.

Lab tests for Hybrit´s pilot plant

It is in the research subjects Process Metallurgy, Energy Engineering and Economics that Luleå University of Technology participates in Hybrit's research program: Fossil-free iron-ore pellets production, Hydrogen-based iron ore reduction and Steel making from hydrogen-reduced iron

Right now, the researchers at Luleå University of Technology are conducting tests and evaluations in the university's own lab that may be used in the development of Hybrit's pilot plant. The lessons learned from processes in the pilot plant will form the basis for the planned future demonstration plant. There, iron must be produced with hydrogen under the same conditions as in a full-scale plant, but with limited capacity. Where such a facility will be located is not yet decided.

Research Team at Luleå University of Technology

From the left in the image above: Hesham Ahmed, Associate Professor in Process Metallurgy, Robert Lundmark, Professor in economics, Charlotte Andersson, Associate Professor in Process Metallurgy, Elisabeth Wetterlund, Associate Professor in  Energy Science, Anna Eriksson, PhD Student in Process Metallurgy and Elias Olofsson, PhD Student in Economics.