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For the first time ever, Swedish steelmaker Ovako used hydrogen to power commercial steel production replacing liquefied natural gas (LNG), reported RECHARGE. The result was a positive one, showing that it had no negative effect on the quality of steel.
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“This is a major development for the steel industry,” Göran Nyström, executive vice-president of group marketing & technology at Ovako, told RECHARGE. “It is the first time that hydrogen has been used to heat steel in an existing production environment. Thanks to the trial, we know that hydrogen can be used simply and flexibly, with no impact on steel quality, which would mean a very large reduction in the carbon footprint.”
Ovako also reported that it already employs electric-arc furnaces powered by renewable energy to melt scrap steel and generate its base product. However, it uses the more polluting LNG to provide the heat at its rolling mills.
The company further added that “this historic development for the steel industry proves that carbon dioxide emissions from rolling can be eliminated provided the right financial support and infrastructure are in place."
So why haven't' more mills made the switch to hydrogen-powered production? It's a complicated matter that stems from the fact that 95% of the world’s hydrogen today comes from natural gas and coal. This contradicts hydrogen's clean qualities.
Hydrogen is a clean gas, releasing only water vapor when burned, but if producing it requires the burning of coal or LNG, we find ourselves once more polluting our environment.
In steel production, making the switch to hydrogen is only worth it if that hydrogen is produced from renewable energy or if the resulting CO2 is captured and stored.
Both these types of hydrogen production are limited in quantities and expensive to produce, which means the steel industry can not make the switch unless clean hydrogen begins being subsidized.