Steelmaking is one of many industrial processes that could be improved in terms of emissions.

Henrik Kettunen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sweden’s SSAB says it “produced the world’s first fossil-free steel” and has started supplying it to the Volvo Group, their first customer.

The message represents the latest development for the Hybrit project, which was founded in 2016 and is owned by SSAB, the energy company Vattenfall and LKAB, a mining and minerals company. Both Vattenfall and LKAB are owned by the Swedish state. The idea behind Hybrit is to use “100% fossil-free hydrogen” instead of coal and coke in steel production.

In a statement on Wednesday, SSAB called the trial delivery “an important step on the way to a completely fossil-free value chain for iron and steel production”.

Looking to the future, the goal is to develop the technology in such a way that it can be demonstrated on an industrial scale. It is hoped that this could be the case as early as 2026.

“The world’s first fossil-free steel is not only a breakthrough for SSAB, it is also proof that it is possible to make the transition and significantly reduce the global carbon footprint of the steel industry,” said Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO of SSAB.

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Steel production is one of many industrial processes that could be improved in terms of emissions and other sustainability metrics. However, the challenge is great.

According to the International Energy Agency, the iron and steel sector is responsible for 2.6 gigatons of direct carbon dioxide emissions annually. In 2019, this value was higher than direct emissions from sectors such as cement and chemicals.

The IEA adds that the steel sector is “the largest industrial coal consumer, providing around 75% of its energy needs”.

Hybrit isn’t the only project looking to mitigate the impact of steel production. Another, H2 Green Steel, is planning to build a steel production facility in northern Sweden which is powered by a “green” hydrogen plant.

Back in February, the Swedish company, which is supported by investors such as Spotify founder Daniel Ek, announced that production would start in 2024 and be located in the country’s Norrbotten region. By 2030, the company is expected to have a production capacity of 5 million tons of steel per year.

Hydrogen can be made in a number of ways. One method involves the use of electrolysis, where an electrical current breaks water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used comes from a renewable source such as wind or sun, it is referred to as “green” or “renewable” hydrogen.

In addition to steel production, aluminum production is another sector in which renewable energies could play a role.

Earlier this year, German automaker BMW announced that it had started sourcing and using aluminum made with solar energy.