The HYBRIT initiative's technological breakthrough captures around 90% of emissions in conjunction with steelmaking, and the companies said it is a decisive step on the road to fossil-free steel.
The HYBRIT pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden has completed test production of sponge iron and demonstrated that it is possible to use fossil-free hydrogen gas to reduce iron ore instead of using coal and coke to remove the oxygen. Production has been continuous and of good quality - around 100t has been made so far.
The companies stated that this is the first time ever that hydrogen made with fossil-free electricity has been used in the direct reduction of iron ore at a pilot scale. The goal in principle is to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the steelmaking process by using only fossil-free feedstock and fossil-free energy in all parts of the value chain. Instead, the emission will be water.
The initiative has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in Sweden and 7% in Finland. The steel industry currently generates 7% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.
The companies stated that hydrogen-based reduction is a critical milestone that paves the way for future fossil-free iron- and steel-making. SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall intend, through HYBRIT, to create the most efficient and entirely fossil-free value chain from the mine to steel, with fossil-free pellets, fossil-free electricity and hydrogen. They also aim to be the first to market, in 2026, with fossil-free steel at an industrial scale.
Fossil-free iron and steel production using HYBRIT technology will require around 15TWh/y of fossil free electricity at SSAB's current production levels. Once completed, the conversion of LKAB's operations will require a total of around 55TWh/y (including most of SSAB's requirement). This will require faster and more predictable permit processes to expand Sweden's power network and electricity production.
SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall launched the HYBRIT initiative in 2016. Last year, HYBRIT began test operations to make hydrogen-reduced sponge iron in the pilot plant built with support from the Swedish Energy Agency. In March this year, Gällivare was chosen for the site of the planned demonstration plant for the production of fossil-free sponge iron at an industrial scale.
Jan Moström, president and CEO of LKAB, said: "This is a major breakthrough both for us and for the entire iron and steel industry. LKAB is the future supplier of sponge iron and this is a critical step in the right direction. Progress with HYBRIT enables us to maintain the pace in our transition and already in 2026, we will begin the switch to industrial-scale production with the first demonstration plant in Gällivare, Sweden. Once LKAB has converted its entire production to sponge iron, we will enable the transition of the steel industry and reduce global emissions by around 35Mt/y, which corresponds to two thirds of Sweden's entire emissions. This is the greatest action we can take together for the good of the climate."
Martin Lindqvist, president and CEO of SSAB, added: "This technological breakthrough is a critical step on the road to fossil-free steel. The potential cannot be underestimated. It means that we can reach climate goals in Sweden and Finland and contribute to reducing emissions across Europe. At the same time, it creates new jobs and export successes. SSAB's transition means we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in Sweden and 7% in Finland. High-strength fossil-free steel will also allow us to help our customers to strengthen their competitiveness. As early as this year, we will deliver minor quantities of steel made using hydrogen-based reduction to customers, and in 2026 we will deliver fossil-free steel at a large scale."
The hydrogen used in the direct reduction process is generated by electrolysis of water with fossil-free electricity, and can be used immediately or stored for later use. In May, HYBRIT began work on building a pilot-scale hydrogen storage facility adjacent to the direct reduction pilot plant in Luleå. The investment of approximately SEK 250 million (US$29.2 million) in the hydrogen gas pilot storage facility include two years of operation and a test programme.
Anna Borg, president and CEO of Vattenfall, said: "Sweden's and Vattenfall's fossil-free electricity is a basic requirement for the low carbon footprint of hydrogen-reduced sponge iron. The breakthrough that we can announce today shows in a very real way how electrification contributes to enabling a fossil-free life within a generation."