Sweden's HYBRIT delivers world's first fossil-free steel

Some good news on the climate front!

Sweden’s HYBRIT delivers world’s first fossil-free steel

Swedish green steel venture HYBRIT said on Wednesday that it had made the world’s first customer delivery of steel produced without using coal as it looks to revolutionize an industry that accounts for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.


Hmmm. As generating hydrogen from electricity is inefficient (what happens to all the oxygen for a start?) but the only mass green storage medium, I wonder why it was necessary in the production of steel? And how was the electricity generated? Sweden’s electricity is 90% green: 3/8ths nuclear, 3/8ths hydro, 1/8th wind, 1/10th ‘other’ (bio, fossil, peat).

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Production of hydrogen demands lots of energy. Sweden is currently in a situation where it produces more energy than it consumes. In the future, the situation may change if the demand for green hydrogen grows.

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Does anyone have the least concern for depletion due to water derived hydrogen which escapes to space? Unlike taking a long shower, that water truly is gone.

No, because of the value of the hydrogen. They will be taking strong measures to eliminate leakage or other waste.

What, we expensively create hydrogen just to let it escape to space? Why do we do that?

I’ve specified valves and worked with compressors for natural gas production my entire career. Stems leak, seals leak, and anything consumer grade will definitely leak. And that is methane. Hydrogen can leak through solid metal. There will be significant loss between electrolysis and combustion, be assured.

I’m not. What is ‘significant’?

In the next and final hundred thousand years or so of our species’ existence at the most (wherever you are, you’re about half way), what impact on the 332,519,000 cubic miles of water are we going to make? Will we miss?

It will add up to significance in terms of atmospheric composition in my lifetime. But if 99% of produced hydrogen is combusted, that would be doing great. Even the flame itself is not entirely efficient, let alone including the entire production and distribution chain.

Enough methane escapes to be a factor in global warming. If we displace methane with hydrogen, we are talking massive industrial scale.

Will we miss it over five hundred thousand years? I do not know. I have not found any quantitative studies on this. But the first dude to burn a lump of coal probably did not think there could be any possible effect on the atmosphere either. So, would you rather Venus or Mars?

Do you have a better suggestion for steel production? (Unless you’re considering Venus or Mars.)

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Interesting. It’s not clear how they will make fossil-free steel, which is an iron-carbon mixture. You can reduce iron ore to iron with hydrogen but what you’ve got then is iron.

“We are thus creating the world’s first fossil-free reduction of iron ore to give sponge iron, a central step for fossil-free iron and steel production.”


Probably best not to assume they haven’t considered the hydrogen problem.

Link for Sweden’s electrical generation mix:

Distribution of electricity generation in Sweden in 2019, by source

Statistics may vary, as countries like to reports by nameplate capacity rather than delivered power, which makes the green portion look better. Fossil fuel only accounts for about 10% of generation, which is not bad. That number can thank Sweden’s hydro potential, which has been fully exploited from about the 80’s, with no new projects on the board, and nuclear, which is intended to be phased out. Hard renewable, some solar but mainly wind, has progressed just past 10%, and probably has a lot of room to grow with the main challenge being maintaining grid stability. Hydro and nuclear are maxed out or declining respectively.

What hydrogen problem?

We’ve consumed about a cubic kilometer of fossil in a century. If we max on hydrogen we’ll consume that much sea water every, what, decade? Ten thousand cubic kilometers in a hundred thousand years. 20 kilometers cubed!!! Leaving 1.3 bn. And when it’s used 90% of it turns to water, not straight up. So we’ll lose a couple uh cubic klicks uh sea. And gain 20 x that in oxygen. Things’ll rust and burn an nth quicker. It’s even less quantifiable risk than nuclear.

Should I have, I suppose I would be too busy spending my money to be posting. Alas, my want of inventiveness consigns me to a pleb existence. I could suggest recycling, but that would hardly be original. Steel production may present as another demand of the human population which leaves an intractable footprint on the planet.

Who knows, hydrogen fired steel production might find some limited niche in the mix. Note that the steel delivery is to Volvo which is a high profile and value usage. Sweden’s total steel production is 4.4 million metric tons. China produces 1064 million metric tons, more than 10 times its nearest competitor India, most of which will be destined for anonymous price sensitive commodities such as sheet metal, L and J bar, rebar, H beam, and piping. At present, all of that is produced with metallurgical coal.

Sometime in the future, an enlightened China may mandate hydrogen production of steel under sparkling blue skies, all the issues with generating and transporting hydrogen be solved, and we warp drive around the cosmos and beam to wherever we wish. But at present, we are hundreds of electrolysis plants and millions of gigawatts of renewable electricity removed from that vision, and China will not be dictated to.

Efficiency of electrolysis is typically around 75-80% at the electrode, and that does not include electrical rectification and water pre-treatment and other plant sinks. Unless the hydrogen is used on site, the hydrogen will require transportation, which means compression to liquid, and now you are close to spending one joule of electricity for half a joule of heat at the point of combustion. Given the expense, I am not seeing a disruptive technology in the HYBRIT release.

Hydrogen has been around forever, and the Hindenburg notwithstanding, there has always been a devoted effort to utilize its potential as a fuel. Back when I was in school, we were assured by confident fuel cell companies that all vehicles on the road would be fuel cell energized long before now. That the economy is not already based on it hasn’t been the outcome of some negative attitude, no can do pessimism, or a gulag reserved for believers. Hydrogen is a delight to engineering firms because designing around it yields so many billable hours, and suppliers love the expensive exotic alloys and coatings required to contain it. Producing the solar and wind turbine raw materials, installing energy farms, and building the hydrogen plants will themselves constitute a contribution to the anthroforming of Earth.

So should Sweden produce its green steel? Sure, why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It is only when I see giddy vanity greenwashing which trivializes and sweeps past the inherent gocha’s that I put my Debbie Downer on.

Excellent. Efficiency has to be a non-issue as there’s no alternative for storage, for when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow or blows too hard (compressed nitrogen?), and fuel for big non-rail vehicles (aircraft, trucks, tractors). We need 10 x as much electricity is all.


And we need to bioengineer biohydrogen

‘It would take about 25,000 square kilometre algal farming to produce biohydrogen equivalent to the energy provided by gasoline in the US alone. This area represents approximately 10% of the area devoted to growing soya in the US’

As we won’t need gasoline for cars, that’s more than enough for trucks, tractors and aviation. A hundred miles squared OOM. 0.00007% of US agricultural land.

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