Fossil-free steel is steel produced using an innovative approach that replaces the traditional coking coal, with technology that uses fossil- free electricity and hydrogen. The HYBRIT fossil-free steel initiative is a partnership between SSAB, iron ore producer LKAB and energy company Vattenfall, and has the potential to drastically advance sustainability in heavy transport; it could also be key to increasing sales.
Heavy transport is the backbone of many industries and plays a fundamental role in how we live, but it also plays a substantial role in our climate crisis. Transport currently accounts for a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions; the European Green Deal wants to reduce these emissions by 90 percent by 2050. The EU hopes to achieve these goals through the use of alternative fuels, shifting to use of greener transport modes and by increasing efficiency.1
“For years, steel has played a big role in improving fuel efficiency in the transport sector,” says Jan Eckerlid, Technical development engineer at SSAB. “We have been able to work with our customers to make lighter and stronger products which need less fuel to operate.”
Fuel efficiency improvements have also been the main sustainability driver in the maritime sector. Better hull designs and more efficient engines have lowered fuel consumption, boosting both sustainability and profitability. Railways are undergoing a process of electrification. Replacing diesel with electric locomotives – particularly when the electric is cleanly generated – is a major sustainability trend in railways.
“Trucking is a conservative industry,” Eckerlid continues. “Just like in the automotive sector, many of the recent trends and innovations have focused on efficiency improvements. They need stability in production and support from regulations to ensure change happens in an orderly manner.”
Traditional manufacturers, such as Daimler, Scania and Volvo, are all developing electric trucks and are using collaborations with start-ups and younger companies like Arrival, Nikola Motors and Tesla to innovate and approach production and design differently. Industry has recognized that efficiency improvements are not enough to meet the challenge of climate change and while fossil-free operation is an important step, it does not deliver the complete solution. The next stage is bringing sustainability to production and the entire lifecycle; this is where fossil-free steel will play a pivotal role.
Many of the major manufacturers are adopting sustainability across their entire value chain. For example, Daimler, the largest truck manufacturer in the world, is working hard to reduce CO2 emissions from their production processes. Their trucks and buses division used 19 percent less energy in 2020.2
Volvo Group, who is collaborating with SSAB to bring fossil-free steel to vehicles, is also taking a variety of positive steps to boost sustainable production.
“Two of the most interesting heavy transport segments are trailers and tipper trucks,” says Eckerlid. “These sectors are quite fragmented and the companies who make trailers or tipper trucks are always assessing what their competitors are doing to see how they can stand out from the crowd. I believe some of these companies are going to see fossil-free steel as a real business opportunity.”
Companies are increasingly requiring sustainability improvements across their entire supply chains and this will continue to put pressure on all players. Heavy transport firms who can market their equipment as containing fossil-free steel could have an advantage in attracting customers that recognize sustainability is already business critical. There has been an upswing in companies asking their suppliers for proof that they are taking steps to improve sustainability and this trend is set to embed in everyday practice. Heavy transport is a critical aspect of the logistics sector, which is under pressure to improve their green credentials.
SSAB is confident that the demand for sustainable production methods will increase as whole industries shift their operations to meet internal and external CO2 reduction goals. This is a long-term strategic endeavor; pre-feasibility studies began in 2016 with fossil-free steel scheduled for release to the market in 2026, and SSAB plans to be completely fossil-free by 2030.
“Fossil-free steel has the same high quality and technical properties as traditional steel. It can also be recycled just like steel has always been,” says Eckerlid. “The big difference is that fossil-free steel will be produced more sustainably. This will be a real game-changer in heavy transport.”
Volvo Group and SSAB have signed a collaboration agreement on research, development, serial production and commercialization of the world’s first vehicles to be made of fossil-free steel.
Strenx® is a high-strength structural steel allowing for innovative design of advanced load-bearing structures that are strong and light.