• Ovako first in the world to heat steel using hydrogen

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      Philip Sharman

      IFRF Director

In various IFRF blogposts over the last two years, we have looked at many different aspects of hydrogen as a fuel and an energy vector in a whole range of potential applications – including looking at hydrogen combustion in energy-intensive industrial processes such as steelmaking.

Well, here’s an excellent example of this transformational low-carbon fuel finding its first use in heating steel in a rolling mill…

Together with Linde Gas AB, Swedish engineering steel manufacturer Ovako AB has conducted a full-scale trial using hydrogen to heat steel before rolling.  The trial was performed with good results in one of the company’s pit furnaces at the Hofors rolling mill in Sweden.  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.

As part of its sustainability efforts, Ovako has worked for a long time to modernise and improve the efficiency of its furnaces.  Thanks to this prioritisation and the investments made in recent years, including upgraded control and automation systems, Ovako was ready to take the next step – using hydrogen in combustion was seen as offering huge opportunities for environmental improvement since the only emission generated is water vapour.

In collaboration with its partner Linde Gas AB, Ovako conducted a trial in which steel was heated using hydrogen instead of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) before rolling at the mill in Hofors.  The trial was successful and testing of the steel produced showed that heating with hydrogen does not affect the quality.  Given the right conditions, Ovako could therefore introduce hydrogen heating for furnaces at all of its rolling mills, thereby drastically reducing its already world-leading low carbon footprint for steelmaking.

“This is a major development for the steel industry,” said Göran Nyström, EVP Group Marketing & Technology .  “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.  We have worked closely with Linde for many years and are proud to be doing this together.”

Ovako has been conducting sustainability work for many years and already has an 80% lower carbon footprint compared to the global average, but is constantly working to get even better.

“We have been working on furnace modernisation for a long time, to make our furnaces as productive and energy efficient as possible,” said Anders Lugnet, Group Technical Specialist, Energy & Furnace Technology at Ovako.  “It is very exciting that we now have proof that it is possible to use hydrogen in heating without affecting the quality of the steel.  If we can make this investment, it would have a great positive impact on the environment.  Our estimate is that an initial investment would save 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, and that is just the beginning.  We performed this trial in such a way that it can be reproduced at full scale in Hofors and at our other rolling mills.”

Ovako is a subsidiary of Sanyo Special Steel and a member of Nippon Steel Corporation, which has a long history of involvement with IFRF in researching combustion processes and fuels.