Maria, could you get us started by summing up the mission of H2 Green Steel in one sentence?
Maria Persson Gulda: The main goal of H2 Green Steel is to accelerate the steel industry’s green transition. To that point, I don’t think it is a coincidence that the European steel industry has shortened the time horizon for its decarbonization by more than ten years since this project came to life. We welcome that very much.
Why did you choose a small town 80 km south of the Arctic Circle for this mission? Why Boden?
Maria Persson Gulda: Boden is just a wonderful place. People here live close to nature and care deeply about protecting it. They are excited about having a global lighthouse project for the transformation of the steel industry in their town. However, there are additional reasons why this is the perfect place for this project. Here, three decisive factors come together: energy, infrastructure, and competence.
In terms of energy, we need two gigawatts of green electricity to produce hydrogen on-site, operate the electric arc furnaces, and electrify the downstream processes. Most of our electricity comes from hydropower. The river right next to the site can provide 14 to 15 terawatt hours of electricity. Also, Boden has an excellent connection to the national electricity grid. Therefore, it’s an optimal location for the supply of green energy.
The logistics infrastructure is also outstanding. Boden is on the railway line that runs from the iron ore fields in northern Sweden to the Baltic Sea, where we can ship out all our products and materials.
And last but not least, it’s the people. This region has a lot of metallurgical competence in both mining and steelmaking. Luleå, which is only 30 minutes away, hosts one of Sweden’s largest technical universities with a very strong focus on metallurgy. The municipality of Boden and regional authorities are also wonderful partners in helping us get all the permits we need to realize this project.
Christian, can you briefly describe the plant technology?
Christian Geerkens: H2 Green Steel has set up the plant technology to produce flat steel according to the highest quality standards to serve the automotive industry. The plant will produce steel from virgin material with DRI (direct reduced iron) technology. In the first phase, H2 Green Steel will build one MIDREX® plant with an annual capacity of 2.1 million tons. The steelmaking plant will consist of two electric arc furnaces with energy recovery systems, two twin ladle furnaces, and an RH (Ruhrstahl Heraeus) degasser. Downstream, SMS group supplies a CSP® Nexus (compact strip production) plant for casting and rolling, a combined pickling line and tandem cold mill, and three different processing lines: a combined annealing and galvanizing line, a continuous galvanizing line and batch annealing furnaces. The overall capacity for the steel plant is about 2.5 million tons per year.
Let’s go into some more detail: What are the ‘green’ technologies for steel production?
Maria Persson Gulda: With minor exceptions, the entire process is designed to run without carbon-based fuels. First, the DRI plant supplied by Paul Wurth and Midrex will run with 100 % hydrogen right from the start. For hydrogen production, we will have different types of electrolyzers: the baseload will be produced with alkaline electrolyzers, as this is currently the most proven technology. On a smaller scale, we will in-stall high-temperature electrolyzers because they are much more efficient and use the steam from the electric arc furnace. We want to learn from that and maybe install more capacity in the next phases.
Cristiano Castagnola: As Maria said, the DRI plant will operate with 100 % hydrogen. This is a major breakthrough as today, all industrial DRI plants are operated with gases from fossil sources, mainly natural gas. The major difference in the setup of a plant conceived to operate only with hydrogen is that electrical process gas heaters replace the reformer. In a conventional natural gas-based MIDREX® DRI plant, the iron ores are reduced by hydrogen and carbon monoxide syngas. This syngas is produced by reforming the natural gas before sending it in the shaft furnace.
When operating a DRI plant only with hydrogen, you must heat up the hydrogen to increase the energy level for the chemical reduction needed to remove oxygen from the iron ore pellets to generate metallic iron. In H2 Green Steel’s MIDREX® plant, this is not done through a gas-gas heat exchange between the process gas and combustion generated off-gasses, as it is done in all industrial processes, and the reformer. Instead, we use a set of innovative large-scale electric heaters. This novel solution allows for significant energy savings, as it eliminates the need to transform electricity into hydrogen for gas heating, which is inevitably associated with yield loss.
Christian Geerkens: The electric arc furnaces are, of course, operated with electricity from renewable sources. That’s quite novel in and of itself. To reduce energy consumption in steelmaking, we will hot-charge DRI into the furnaces. It’s not the first plant in the world combining a DRI plant and EAF with hot-charging, but it’s very leading-edge. We will also have two energy recovery plants producing steam for the electrolyzers and downstream processes.
We have electrified most heating processes in the rolling mills and processing lines. For example, in the CSP® Nexus plant, we will replace the gas-fired tunnel furnace with a combination of induction heaters and electrically heated roller tables. Also, heating the cold rolled strip in the galvanizing lines is done with electrical energy instead of gas-fired burners. Last but not least, the batch annealing furnaces are also powered by electricity.
We especially want to attract women to work for us.
Maria Persson Gulda: So far, we have only discussed reducing the carbon footprint. But we will realize more groundbreaking, disruptive innovations at H2 Green Steel. For example, we have worked with SMS, Paul Wurth, and Midrex to increase the circularity of the plant. We will dispatch no water into the river, circulate all the gases, and use the off-heat for the high-temperature electrolyzers. Circularity is an essential concept for us.
There’s another notable disruption that’s important to us: steel plants worldwide are very homogenous regarding the nationality and gender of their employees. We want to bring the best people from all over the world to our steel plant. We especially want to attract women to work for us. Today, we are 40 % women at H2 Green Steel, even 50 % in the management team, and we want to maintain that level for the operation of the plant. From the start of the project, our mission to ‘go green’ has attracted a more diverse set of people to the steel industry, which is very exciting.
Why did you choose SMS group as a partner for this project?
Maria Persson Gulda: The combined technology we are getting from the consortium of MIDREX®, Paul Wurth, and SMS group is the best technology for reducing iron ore and producing high-quality flat products based on 100 % hydrogen and green electricity. We have come to this decision after discussions with all suppliers.
Regarding MIDREX®, the most significant ad-vantage of their technology, from the perspective of a steel producer, is that it is designed to use lower-grade iron ores. H2 Green Steel will mainly feed high-grade iron ore from Sweden into the DRI plant, but MIDREX® technology gives us the highest flexibility with respect to the iron ore supply chain.
What are the next steps? What is the reaction of your customers to this project?
Maria Persson Gulda: Commissioning of the plant is scheduled for 2025, followed by the production ramp-up in 2026. And the reaction from our customers is very positive. We have already sold 1.6 million tons of steel all kinds of industries. In the automotive and commercial vehicles industry, we have customers like Mercedes, BMW, Bilstein, and Scania. We also have appliance producers like Electrolux and Miele as customers.
It is the first time in decades that a project of this size will be realized in Europe, and we are incredibly proud that it will be supplied by SMS group.
Christian Geerkens: I would like to add that the Boden plant will be not only the world’s greenest but also Europe’s most modern plant. We supply the latest technologies for the production of high-quality steel strip. Take the CSP® plant as an example. It will be the second CSP® Nexus plant in the world and the first of this kind in Europe. With its new high-throughput caster, it will be possible to produce 2.5 million tons per year on a single strand, almost entirely electrically powered. The strip width of 1,950 mm will give H2 Green Steel a competitive advantage. It is the first time in decades that a project of this size will be realized in Europe, and we are incredibly proud that it will be supplied by SMS group.