Carbon neutrality in 2050: This is the climate target that the European Green Deal has established. Regulatory pressure on the European steel industry, which currently accounts for more than 6% of EU-wide carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, thus is correspondingly high. Markets, too, especially the automotive industry, have become increasingly vocal in recent years as to the need for steel products that are produced with the smallest possible carbon footprint.
voestalpine plays a leading role in the efficient and sustainable production of steel. In order to maintain this high standard, the company continually optimizes its production processes, particularly by leveraging the possibilities of digital transformation. A high degree of automation, model-based controls, the use of artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality applications are some of the options voestalpine instrumentalizes to achieve best product qualities through highly efficient production processes while at the same time saving resources, conserving energy, and lowering emissions.
Over and above incremental improvements, the company conducts research on so-called breakthrough technologies that are intended to enable carbon (CO2) neutral steel production based on hydrogen. Internationally, voestalpine is considered a trailblazer in this area thanks to its research activities—above all the EU-sponsored H2FUTURE project that is being run in collaboration with VERBUND (Austria’s largest electricity provider), Siemens, Austrian Power Grid (APG), K1-MET (a metallurgical competence center), and TNO (an applied scientific research organization). The company’s plant in Linz, Austria, is home to the world’s largest and most advanced proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer facility in the steel industry. It serves to research the production of green hydrogen on an industrial scale and to test the options for using green hydrogen in various stages of steel production. The six-megawatt facility has successfully completed various pilot programs since it was commissioned in the spring of 2020.
The Sustainable Steelmaking (SuSteel) project and the hydrogen-based fine ore reduction (Hyfor) project are two additional cutting-edge projects being carried out in Donawitz that rely on hydrogen as the technology that is key to carbon neutral steel production. The groundbreaking SuSteel project (a collaboration with K1-MET and the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Leoben, Austria) involves a pilot plant that produces crude steel directly from iron ore using hydrogen plasma and bypasses the pig iron stage. The Hyfor project involves a collaboration with Primetals Technologies, the University of Mining and Metallurgy, and K1-MET. It focuses on building a pilot plant to reduce iron ore fines using hydrogen in lieu of natural gas. The resulting hot briquetted iron (HBI) can subsequently be utilized in an electric arc furnace to make steel.
A collaborative research project with RAG Austria and the University of Mining and Metallurgy concerns the carbon neutral production of hydrogen. The pyrolysis of natural gas generates hydrogen and solid carbon, which is considered a valuable industrial raw material.