Into the future with green steel
thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG
47166 Duisburg, Germany
+49 (0)203 52-0
The goal is clear: Steelmaking at thyssenkrupp is to be climate-neutral by 2045. With its climate strategy the company is stepping up its previous activities to reduce emissions, accepting its social responsibility and showing its commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. As an initial target for 2030, thyssenkrupp is aiming to reduce emissions from its own production and processes and from the purchase of energy by 30 percent versus the base year 2018. To achieve these goals, the steel company is going to need support from policymakers. Only with the right framework will the transformation of the industry be a success.
In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, one of the company's top priorities is not to compromise on quality and steel grades. High-quality steel is a driver of innovation and an essential material for numerous sectors – including those that are relevant for a successful climate change: e.g. electric mobility or wind energy. We intend to keep it that way in the future. That's why the motto is: Do without CO2 but retain established production processes and value chains as far as possible.
At the end of September 2021, thyssenkrupp Steel joined the "Race to Zero" campaign on occasion of the Climate Week of the United Nations. In this campaign, the company, together with ten other German companies and a further 1,300 companies worldwide, commits itself to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. In addition, thyssenkrupp Steel has joined the global multi-stakeholder ResponsibleSteel initiative. In the non-profit organization, companies, civil society groups and associations are working to develop standards for responsibly produced steel – from the procurement of raw materials to the recycling of steel after the use phase.
Climate transformation news
Another important milestone on the way to the transformation to climate neutrality is the launch of the first product with reduced CO2 intensity. Under the umbrella brand bluemint® Steel, thyssenkrupp Steel has developed bluemint® pure – a product based on real CO2 savings during production, with a 70 percent reduced carbon footprint compared to conventional steel. The method of CO2 savings has been tested by the international certification society DNV and confirmed. This approach is also in accordance with the standards of the internationally recognized Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The Wuppertal Institute has also validated the balance-sheet approach as an important part of a comprehensive decarbonization strategy for steel production.
TÜV SÜD has certified the second CO2-reduced product, bluemint® recycled. In this process, a high-quality scrap recycling product is used in the blast furnace, and the amount of coal used in the blast furnace is reduced. In this way, the CO2 intensity per tonne produced can be reduced from 2.1 to 0.75 tonnes.
thyssenkrupp Steel has already steadily and significantly reduced emissions in steel production in recent years. But to achieve climate-neutral steel production, fundamental technological changes will be necessary. thyssenkrupp Steel is pursuing an open approach and focusing on two parallel, equally important routes: The decisive step is the avoidance of CO2 through the use of hydrogen ("Carbon Direct Avoidance", CDA). This is complemented by the use of CO2 produced in steelmaking ("Carbon Capture and Usage", CCU). thyssenkrupp is taking a step-by-step approach. In this way, the company is ensuring that steel production is also possible in a climate-neutral society – and thus ensuring the future viability of industry and jobs.
With hydrogen toward climate-neutral steel
thyssenkrupp Steel is continuously developing both paths. The company is always seeking for even more efficient solutions or possibilities of accelerating the transformation, for instance through new technological findings. In the hydrogen path, thyssenkrupp Steel also always takes into account the availability of hydrogen, as the hydrogen economy is still in its infancy.
In the long term, thyssenkrupp Steel alone will need around 720,000 tonnes of the climate-friendly gas per year – for which the company requires green power equating to the output of 3,800 wind turbines. So one of the things the company is focusing on is the rapid establishment of a supply infrastructure for green hydrogen. Various national and international projects and collaborations are currently underway to this end.
tkH2Steel®: hydrogen path
"Instead of coal, we are using hydrogen in the blast furnace," says Dr. Arnd Köfler, Executive Board Member for Production at thyssenkrupp Steel, explaining the first step towards avoiding CO2 emissions. In this process, the hydrogen replaces pulverized coal: where CO2 is released when using coal, hydrogen simply produces steam. As the worldwide first of several tests, hydrogen was injected into one of the 28 tuyeres on blast furnace 9 at the Duisburg-Hamborn site on November 11, 2019. The hydrogen was delivered by Air Liquide by road tanker. The first test phase has now been successfully completed. In the second phase, which began in 2022, the partners will extend the trials to all blow molds. The aim of the joint project, which is being carried out together with the VDEh Operations Research Institute and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, is to transfer the technology to large-scale industrial use. To do so, the site is to be connected via pipeline to the Air Liquide hydrogen network. "In the medium term, replacing pulverized coal with hydrogen at this stage of the production process has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 20 percent," explains Dr. Arnd Köfler.
Even though converting blast furnace 9 to hydrogen will enable further CO2 reductions in the short term, a fundamental transformation of steel production is required. The development of direct reduction plants (DR plants) represents a key change. At the same time, a test series is underway and its results are eagerly awaited far beyond the borders of Duisburg: the use of hydrogen in the direct reduction process. This is because up to now, the DR plants already used in steel production have been operated with natural gas. "A key question in this trial application, as in adding the hydrogen to the blast furnace, is how we need to inject the hydrogen so that it reacts effectively with the oxygen in the iron ore," explains Dr. Frank Ahrenhold, head of Sustainable Steelmaking at thyssenkrupp Steel. Measurement technology will monitor every single substance stream and every iron ore grade used in the planned 20-meter tall DR test plant. "We're doing basic research here that will contribute significantly to the transformation toward climate neutrality."
However, since climate-neutral hydrogen will not be available in sufficiently large quantities in the foreseeable future, natural gas can also be used as a stopgap measure. This already significantly reduces emissions compared with the coal-based blast furnace route. The first large-scale DR plant will go into operation at thyssenkrupp Steel in 2025.
In contrast to the blast furnace, DR plants do not produce hot metal, but solid sponge iron ("Direct Reduced Iron", DRI). It must be melted down into a hot metal-like product so that it can be further processed into high-quality steel. Together with plant manufacturers, thyssenkrupp Steel is therefore developing a completely new plant in order to optimize the hot metal system. It is a power-operated melting unit, which is combined with the DR plant. Direct reduction plants with a melting unit – just like a blast furnace – continuously produce a liquid product comparable to conventionally produced pig iron. As a result, the new plants can be seamlessly integrated into the existing metallurgical plant. The great advantage is that the existing and proven processes in the Duisburg-based BOF meltshops can be maintained. The liquid product is processed into the proven steel grades there. Thus, the Duisburg steelworks is continuing to boil steel like in the past – but with hydrogen and green power instead of coal. The feasibility, scalability and innovativeness of this concept were also confirmed by scientists from RWTH Aachen University in a study commissioned by thyssenkrupp Steel at the beginning of 2021.
Using emissions: Carbon2Chem®
The second method thyssenkrupp is pursuing in its goal to become climate-neutral by 2045 is the Carbon2Chem® project. The company processes gases produced during steel production for later use. The German federal government has funded the first phase of the project since 2016 with more than €60 million. The second phase, which is also being funded by the German federal government with more than €75 million, has been running since 2020. "Steel production generates steel mill gases with components that contain carbon. With Carbon2Chem® we are able to convert these gases into base chemicals for use in the chemical industry, which would otherwise require synthetic gas from imported fossil resources such as oil or natural gas,” says Dr. Markus Oles, project coordinator of Carbon2Chem®, describing the project's central aim. "These base chemicals can then be used to make fertilizers, plastics, or fuels, for example."
Since September 2018 thyssenkrupp has been working on this technology at the Carbon2Chem® pilot plant in Duisburg and has – for the first time anywhere in the world – produced ammonia and methanol from steel mill gases.
Using both of these methods – Carbon2Chem® and the use of hydrogen as a reducing agent – in parallel will allow thyssenkrupp to considerably reduce the emissions of its existing blast furnaces in future. Carbon2Chem® can also be employed in other industries. The second project phase will include testing its suitability for use in cement manufacture or waste incineration plants.
The political framework
The conversion of production processes to the use of hydrogen as reducing agent is a challenging task, not only from a technological point of view. At the political level, too, many decisions must be made in the short term at the European and national levels so that thyssenkrupp and other steel producers can implement the transformation in a cost-effective way. First of all, regulatory framework conditions are needed for the purchase of hydrogen, so that it can be transported and is available in sufficient quantities and at competitive prices. The production of "green" hydrogen also depends on the massive expansion of renewable energies. As the demand cannot be covered by the domestic market alone, imports must be considered. The hydrogen strategy adopted by the German federal government is an important basis for such regulatory issues. It has to be aligned with the European hydrogen strategy.
With a view to the structural modifications of the plants and to the achievement of the climate goals, the company is also dependent on swift approval procedures. If the economic basis for the necessary investments in transformation is to be ensured, production conditions for the steel industry must not deteriorate. This applies in particular to the purchase of energy and the impact of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). Transformation must ultimately be economical. Until then, however, trade protection measures will be needed to protect European steel producers from unfair imports.
Ultimately, in order to create a sales market for climate-neutral steel, incentives for its use on the customer side are also necessary. This also requires clearly defined criteria for what is meant by a climate-neutral steel product. An industry-wide definition and corresponding certifications on the manufacturer side will promote transparency and make it easier for consumers to find their way around the market.
A climate-neutral society is unimaginable without steel. Many products and industries are reliant on steel to achieve technical progress and reduce their carbon footprint. "No energy transition without steel" is the motto: Wind turbines, for example, are up to 80 percent steel, while electrical steel serves as a basic component in efficient electric motors, generators, and smart power grids.
To look at it another way: No climate-neutral steelmaking without clean energy. This shows how important it is to take a holistic approach to the issue of climate protection and how closely industry and the energy transition are interlinked.
We need steel to achieve the ambitious climate targets. To secure its future in a climate-neutral society, the way it is produced will be revolutionized over the next three decades. With tkH2Steel®, thyssenkrupp has already made a start on this.
thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG
Head of Public & Media Relations
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