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Magazine6 Min

"Our team is set to revolutionize the history of steel production."

Christian Geerkens is Executive Project Director for the H2 Green Steel project at SMS group. In this interview we asked him about his motivation, what's different when working with a start-up like H2 Green Steel and the next steps for this mega project.

Mr. Geerkens, after heading the Metallurgy department and managing the Electrics and Automation unit, you have now taken over as chief project manager of H2 Green Steel. What was it that really excited you about taking this step?

Christian Geerkens: After 33 years at SMS with various roles and responsibilities, I can work on a project now, which is has a direct link to climate protection. SMS has brought to life the fantastic #turningmetalsgreen initiative, which is exactly what the H2 Green Steel project stands for. It's a good feeling to know that you're part of a team that is set to revolutionize and rewrite the history of steel production. For me, this was the main motivation for taking on this project.

But there's another reason too. With our "Project First" approach, SMS group has put the project in the spotlight. As project manager, I assume full profit and loss responsibility. I was always particularly attracted to this kind of responsibility in my work.

Winning this project was no easy task. Looking back on 2022, what phases did the project have?

Christian Geerkens: That’s right. There are no limits to how complex a project like this can be, it follows a sinusoidal path: there are many positive points and a few negative ones too. Hitting some bumps along the way is unavoidable the negotiation process. But signing the deal after around eight months of talks was a huge deal for all of us. The project is not only big in terms of volume. A more crucial aspect is its significance going forward: For the first time, we will be able to produce steel in an almost completely CO2-free process. To quote Maria Persson Gulda, CTO at H2 Green Steel: The project is a game changer in the steel industry.

What is it exactly that makes this project so unique?

Christian Geerkens: The H2 Green Steel project is so special because it reduces CO2 emissions from steel production by 95 percent on a lasting basis. This contrasts with other projects we know, which are aimed at achieving a gradual reduction in CO2 emissions in traditional metallurgical plants. At H2 Green Steel, electrolyzers were included in the configuration right from the beginning. These basically generate the entire hydrogen as a reducing gas for the direct reduction plant, in which the primary material for the steelworks is produced. The second way in which this project stands out from all the others is that in Sweden electricity can be fully generated from renewable sources and used to power the process. The main portion of this energy is created by the large number of hydroelectric power plants spread across northern Scandinavia.

H2 Green Steel is a start-up. This is extremely unusual in the traditional steel industry. What did you think when you first heard about the project?

Christian Geerkens: My first thoughts were, of course, that it's an incredibly big project and that the customer as a start-up is very new to the industry. Since the first aspect that strikes you is the financing required, I initially had difficulty believing that such a large-scale project with so many stakeholders could get off the ground in the first place. Yet when you look at the project, it's obvious what unimaginable lengths H2 Green Steel has gone to in setting up this decarbonization project. I admire the courage of this team that is driving this project forward at incredible speed without any significant experience as an owner or operator. Of course, this is only possible if others involved in the process also back the project with a comparable approach. I would again like to commend the SMS team who, thanks to their tireless efforts over two years now, have made a detailed contribution to the success of this project. The reward for which was the signing of the contract.

What really convinced the customer to choose SMS as the partner for this lighthouse project?

Christian Geerkens: Actually, that is a question for H2 Green Steel to answer. From my point of view, the way we have implemented large-scale mini mills, particularly in the USA, has shown that we are capable of supplying and commissioning several lines at the same time. It takes a very special kind of project management competence to engineer, procure and commission ten or eleven lines, as we have now with H2 Green Steel. We again provided impressive proof of this project execution expertise at SDI recently, something I believe H2 Green Steel didn't fail to notice. On top of that, we were able to offer H2 Green Steel technological solutions that were in line with the project's objective, for example our electric-heated roller table, which is to replace our proven gas-fired tunnel furnace technology.

The SDI project during construction phase. The flat steel complex in located in Texas in the US.

Looking forward: What are the next stages you are working towards?

Christian Geerkens: The project's progress and the work of all those involved in it now depend on the engineering results we deliver. That's why we intend to supply all the necessary documents in good time so that our customer can complete the planned site activities, such as the preparation and excavation of foundations and the necessary piling, in accordance with the time schedule. All of us in the team are currently working hard here to bring this to a successful conclusion with high-quality results.

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