Hydrogen steel plant: voestalpine X Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

voestalpine plant

DECARBONIZATION OF THE STEEL INDUSTRY WILL BE KEY TO ACHIEVE CARBON NEUTRALITY BY 2050: STEEL ACCOUNTS FOR 7-9% OF GLOBAL CO2 EMISSIONS FROM FOSSIL FUELS. HYDROGEN IS INCREASINGLY SEEN AS A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO COAL AS THE SOURCE OF ENERGY IN STEEL-MAKING. IN PARTNERSHIP WITH AUSTRIAN STEEL-BASED TECHNOLOGY COMPANY VOESTALPINE, PRIMETAL TECHNOLOGIES, A SUBSIDIARY OF MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, BUILDS IN AUSTRIA A STEEL PRODUCTION PLANT FUELED BY HYDROGEN.

The partners

voestalpine, an Austrian steel-based technology group present in 50 countries

Founded in 1938, voestalpine is an Austrian metallurgy and steel-based technology group, working with the automotive, consumer goods, aerospace and oil & gas industries. It is also the world market leader in railway systems, tool steel and special sections. The group operates globally, with 49000 employees in more than 50 countries. In Asia, voestalpine has nearly 50 subsidiaries and offices, including one in Japan specialized in high performance metals.

Over the past decade, voestalpine has invested around 2.3 billion euros in environmental and climate protection, and has initiated research into alternative manufacturing processes to help reduce its CO2 emissions. Projects in this field include the use of hydrogen in steel production and the industrial production of renewable hydrogen.

voestalpine machine

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the world’s third largest steelmaking equipment supplier

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), headquartered in Tokyo, is one of the world’s leading industrial firms, with 80000 employees. Created more than 130 years ago, MHI delivers solutions across a wide range of industries from commercial aviation and transportation to power plants and gas turbines, and from machinery and infrastructure to integrated defense and space systems. It is the world’s third-largest steelmaking equipment supplier. 

MHI is currently developing its presence in hydrogen. It recently acquired stakes in a Norwegian hydrogen-producing equipment and in hydrogen producers. MHI aims at being present both in the supply of hydrogen and in equipment construction and engineering.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries maintains a comprehensive presence across Europe, with 11000 employees, more than 100 offices and factories, and relationships with more than 600 European suppliers. 

Among other partnerships with European firms, MHI founded with Siemens in 2015 Primetal Technologies, a joint-venture specialized in solutions for metals production. In 2020, full ownership of Primetal Technologies was transferred to MHI and partners. Primetal Technologies currently explores the hydrogen-fueled production of steel.

The partnership: A hydrogen-fueled steel production plant in Austria

The decarbonization of heavily emitting sectors such as cement, chemicals and steel production will be key to achieving the 2050 carbon neutrality target set both by the EU and Japan. Globally, the steel industry accounts for 7 to 9% of all direct CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. As part of the efforts to reduce emissions from steel production, various technologies are being developed. Hydrogen is increasingly seen as a viable option.

The removal of oxygen from the iron ore, an essential step in steel production, accounts for a large part of the CO2 emissions in steelmaking, as it requires a large amount of heat, usually produced from fossil fuels such as coal. MHI’s Primetal Technologies is developing an innovative process that operates at lower temperatures than the conventional process and can be fueled by hydrogen. 

The pilot plant for this new hydrogen-fueled process is built at voestalpine’s site in Donawitz, Austria, in partnership with the Austrian steel-based technology company. In order to increase the energy efficiency of the whole process, a heat recovery system is also included in the project. The plant is set to begin its operations in 2021, with an expected steel production capacity of 25000 tons per year. 

voestalpine plant

In this pilot, the hydrogen is supplied by a gas company and is not necessarily produced from clean sources. In order to achieve true decarbonization of hydrogen-fueled steel-making, another challenge is the availability of renewable, CO2-free hydrogen in large volumes, at an affordable cost. As of today, most of the hydrogen used in the industry is produced from methane, thus emitting CO2 at the source. Zero-emission steel will require zero-emission hydrogen, that can be produced by electrolysis from water using fossil-free energy. One of the most advanced projects in this regard is H2Future, also located on an industrial site of voestalpine in Austria. Funded by the EU, H2Future started in 2017 and uses a technology developed by Siemens to produce hydrogen from renewable electricity.

Besides voestalpine, MHI and other Japanese companies such as Nippon Steel, an increasing number European companies are pursuing the hydrogen-fueled steelmaking process using various technologies, including SMS and Thyssenkrupp from Germany and Danieli from Italy.

More information

Photos: voestalpine AG, source: voestalpine.com | Primetals Technologies / primetals.com

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