The global fight to reduce CO2 emissions and slow down climate change has inspired several innovative research and development projects. Not least, HYBRIT - a joint initiative between Swedish steel manufacturer SSAB, iron ore producer LKAB and energy company Vattenfall - to develop a process to manufacture steel without CO2 emissions. In August 2021, SSAB bore fruit with the successful production of the first piece of fossil-free steel in world history.
“The first fossil-free steel in the world is not only a breakthrough for SSAB, it also proves that it’s possible to make the transition and significantly reduce the steel industry’s carbon footprint,” says Martin Lindqvist, SSAB President and CEO.
The success of HYBRIT created a loud buzz among big companies that had already shown a great interest in the development of a carbon-neutral material. This new type of production must, however, be seen for what it is: Just the beginning of an industrial transition that hinges on more SSAB customers replacing traditional steel in their production with the new fossil-free alternative.
Volvo Group became the first company to take the huge leap towards a greener future by using fossil-free steel. “Our collaboration with Volvo Group shows that a green transition is possible and can bring results,” says Lindqvist, the SSAB president.
At Volvo Group, Marcus Andersson – Head of Structure Engineering, Articulated Haulers & Wheel Loaders – has the explanation as to why the company wants to position itself at the green forefront. “To be able to build the world we want to live in, we need to be sustainable both as a company and our products,” he says. “Steel forms the backbone of our products and as such it adds to our carbon footprint. To implement fossil-free steel makes it possible for us to address this issue.”
In October 2021, Volvo unveiled the first vehicle ever made with fossil-free steel with the introduction of their autonomous electric dumper, which contains more than three tonnes of fossil-free steel delivered by SSAB.
“This vehicle has great symbolic value,” says Marcus Andersson because it represents a big technological shift to going fully electric and autonomous, at the same time as it represents our sustainable ambitions. To add fossil-free steel to this product was a natural next step for us.”
While the production process differs from conventional manufacturing, the fossil-free steel from SSAB has the same high quality and retains the properties of traditional steel, which is of great importance to Volvo. “The feedback I got from my team when it comes to the quality and properties of the product was that they are exactly the same as those of conventional steel,” says Melker Jernberg, President of Volvo Construction Equipment. “During welding and cutting, we used exactly the same product processes, which will be important when we start to scale up production.”
Both Volvo and SSAB representatives highlight the value of the companies’ collaboration and expressed a strongly held belief that similar cooperation holds the key to decarbonating further industries.
“I see a great interest among our customers and also from the customers of our customers who are at the wheel steering towards the logistical systems of the future in, for example, retail and construction,” says Martin Lundstedt, Volvo Group President and CEO. “So in the end it all comes down to the circular economy: How do we combine the strengths of everyone in the value chain to create a greater outcome together.”
This dumper was just the first milestone for Volvo, which plans to use SSAB’s fossil-free steel to start making concept vehicles and machines. Getting smaller-scale serial production up and running is planned for 2022, with a gradual escalation towards mass production to follow. Volvo and SSAB have also agreed to work together on research and development pertaining to weight and quality in order to optimize the use of fossil-free steel in Volvo products.
“We are extremely eager to be a part of shaping the future we want to live in. We know that it’s good for the planet and for future generations, as well as for business,” says Martin Lundstedt, the Volvo Group President.
SSAB is teaming up with Volvo Cars to jointly explore the development of fossil-free, high-quality steel for use in the automotive industry.
The global challenge of halting and reversing current rates of climate change is urgent. The steel industry has the potential to play a significant role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions both in the production phase and by supporting current rates of recycling.