April 19, 2024


Think Differently

This new engineering could eliminate the business enterprise case for hydrogen in green steel production

It has been a extensive-held see that the only feasible way to decarbonise steel generation is to use green hydrogen to extract iron from ore, and then use electric powered arc furnaces to convert the iron into metal.

But a very long-gestating technological know-how remaining made by a properly-funded start off-up promises to not just contend with environmentally friendly hydrogen, but potentially wipe out the company scenario for H2 in metal production altogether.

Massachusetts-based Boston Metallic has invented a know-how it calls molten oxide electrolysis (MOE) that blasts a liquid electrolyte made up of iron ore parts with substantial quantities of clear electricity, heating it to 1,600°C (the melting level of iron) by means of an electrode able to withstand these types of large temperatures.

At this temperature, the iron oxide in the ore splits into pure molten iron and oxygen impurities these types of as silica and magnesium rise to the top of the furnace, and the liquid electrolyte remains in situ to proceed the method.

Yet another advantage of the technologies is that while hydrogen-fired immediate-iron reduction (DRI) (see panel beneath) necessitates scarce large-grade iron ore — creating Swedish developer H2 Eco-friendly Metal to import ore from Canada and Brazil — MOE is effective with reduced-grade iron ore, a less costly source.

Boston Metal presently operates a pilot plant at its headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts, and is this week because of to open a industrial-scale manufacturing unit in Brazil creating small-carbon iron alloys, which the organization believes can deliver in $400m of profits by 2026 — the 12 months it hopes to start off producing green steel commercially, according to Forbes magazine.

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It is a great task that Boston Metal has been well-funded — it has been doing the job on MOE technology considering the fact that its development in 2013, and the company’s opportunity is so large that it has continued to bring in large-profile investors.

Breakthrough Power Ventures — the tech undertaking money agency funded by billionaires this kind of as Invoice Gates, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson — was just one of Boston Metals’ early financial backers, and continues to help the business, contributing an undisclosed total last September to a Sequence C funding round that lifted a staggering $262m.

Enterprise-cash database Pitchbook a short while ago valued the company at $860m, in accordance to Forbes.

A further Sequence C investor was steel large ArcelorMittal, which is established to acquire €2.89bn from European governments to build DRI services, even though its Europe manager not long ago admitted that inexperienced hydrogen was much too high-priced to use in its EU steel mills.

Estimates counsel environmentally friendly hydrogen-centered steel will be 20-40% far more high-priced than gray metal produced with coal-fired blast furnaces and standard oxygen furnaces.

But Boston Metallic CEO Tadeu Carneiro told Forbes that its technology would enable the manufacturing of inexperienced metal to attain cost parity with the extremely polluting wide range once MOE crops produce involving a single and two million tonnes a yr, with electrical energy costs of about $30/MWh — a determine already getting reached by photo voltaic power in the sunniest sections of the earth.

“We want to make a better metallic at a reduced value without the need of a subsidy,” he mentioned. “A top quality usually means you unsuccessful. Your technological innovation is not market-prepared.”

Nonetheless, a lot of offtakers have been keen to pay a quality for hydrogen-derived environmentally friendly metal. For case in point, H2 Green Steel has by now signed binding offtake agreements with Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, truck maker Scania, US conglomerate Cargill, German vehicle technological innovation business ZF, German automobile areas supplier Kirchhoff Automotiv, Italian steel maker Marcegaglia, Uk-primarily based SPM and Germany’s Bilstein Group.

Replacing grey metal built working with coal with the more costly green assortment will cost about €300 ($326) for each motor vehicle, according to estimates — an boost that can be quite quickly absorbed by prospects currently having to pay 5 figures for new autos.

Boston Metals’ MOE engineering can also be used to develop minimal-carbon metals other than iron and metal. In November, the US authorities awarded funding to allow Boston Metal to construct a new facility in West Virginia to manufacture ultra-pure chromium. The exact total of funding was not exposed, but the venture was 1 of 7 to share a hard cash pot of $275m.

Hydrogen in immediate-decreased iron output

Environmentally friendly steel producers are setting up to use inexperienced hydrogen to decarbonise their steel mills, which jointly account for 7-8% of all world carbon emissions.

Ordinarily, iron has been extracted from iron-oxide ore by burning carbon-wealthy coking coal in a blast furnace, wherever the fossil gasoline generates significant-temperature warmth when simultaneously removing oxygen from the ore by converting it to carbon dioxide.

This very polluting system can be changed with environmentally friendly hydrogen in a immediate-decreased iron (DRI) facility, the place the H2 reacts with the oxygen to produce steam (H2O) instead than carbon dioxide.

In simple fact, hydrogen-centered DRI is currently the only established pathway of decarbonising metal generation, when paired with an electrical arc furnace powered by renewable energy.

Policymakers want producers to reduce emissions from the sector by applying green-hydrogen DRI that is then turned into environmentally friendly steel applying renewables-driven electrical arc furnaces, but with eco-friendly H2 costing in excess of €5/kg in Europe, it would consequence in significantly far more pricey steel that will demand offtakers to pay out a premium.