Volvo buys world’s first fossil-free steel

(Image courtesy of Volvo Group).

The first fossil-free steel in the world has been delivered by Swedish steelmaker SSAB Oxelösund to its first customer, Volvo Group.

The product was manufactured in northern Sweden, using the Hybrit technology, which was developed by SSAB in partnership with iron-ore miner LKAB and utility Vattenfall. The technology uses 100% fossil-free hydrogen instead of coal and coke.

Volvo has said that this year, it will start manufacturing the first concept vehicles and machines with steel from SSAB using hydrogen. Plans are for smaller-scale serial production to start during 2022 and for a gradual escalation towards mass production to follow. 

The carmaker and the steelmaker will also work together on research and development to optimize the use of steel in Volvo’s products with regard to weight and quality. Together, the two companies will develop a number of products of fossil-free steel with the goal of reaching serial production within a few years.

According to the firms, the goal is to deliver fossil-free steel to the market and demonstrate the technology on an industrial scale as early as 2026

“Newly made fossil-free steel from SSAB will be an important complement to the traditional and recycled steel used in Volvo’s trucks, construction equipment and other products,” Volvo said in a media statement.

“Fossil-free steel will be made by a completely new technology using fossil-free electricity and hydrogen. The result will be a much lower climate impact and a fossil-free value chain. The steel industry considers that the need for steel will grow significantly in the long term and that newly made fossil-free steel will be needed to meet this demand.”

The Hybrit system Volvo is referring to stands for Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology and it was created in 2016. However, it was in June 2021 when the companies developing it were able to showcase the world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron produced at Hybrit’s pilot plant in Luleå. This was the raw material used to manufacture the so-called ‘green steel.’

In detail, the pilot plant in Luleå has a direct reduction shaft and a number of electrolyzers for the production of hydrogen using fossil-free electricity. This hydrogen is employed to remove oxygen from iron ore pellets, which is a prerequisite for steel production.

To produce the pellets, Hybrit supplied LKAB’s existing plant in Malmberget with a special tank for bio-oil as well as associated piping systems, making it the world’s first fossil-free pellet plant.

According to the firms behind this endeavour, their goal is to deliver fossil-free steel to the market and demonstrate the technology on an industrial scale as early as 2026. They believe that by using the Hybrit technology, SSAB has the potential to reduce Sweden’s total carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 10% and Finland’s by approximately 7%.

“This is a crucial milestone and an important step towards creating a completely fossil-free value chain from mine to finished steel,” Jan Moström, LKAB president and CEO, said in a press brief.

“By industrializing this technology in the future and making the transition to the production of sponge iron on an industrial scale, we will enable the steel industry to make the transition. This is the greatest thing we can do together for the climate.”