What is fossil-free steel and why now?

Decarbonizing the steelmaking process is non-negotiable if the industry wants to successfully transition from being one of the highest CO2 emitters to a sustainable, fossil-free actor in the global value chain. Although SSAB is already one of the world’s most CO2-efficient steel companies, their new pioneering approach to steel production is leading the way to providing quality steel with zero CO2 emissions.

A growing global population, increasingly higher standards of living, and greater urbanization are trends that are driving the rise in global steel demand. However, the significant carbon footprint of the steel industry is a reality for Europe and the rest of the world, putting pressure on the industry to innovate and provide sustainable steel to meet current and future demand. The challenge is already here: while the steel recycling rate is an impressive 90% or so in many parts of the world, the steel scrap available meets just 25% of global demand.

How sustainable is fossil-free steel?

SSAB’s investment in finding innovative solutions is groundbreaking in the sector and will set new standards that the company hopes will both encourage and force other steel producers to follow.

The commitment to net zero CO2 emission steel extends across SSAB’s entire steelmaking process, starting with the iron ore being sourced using fossil-free mining. In the next phase, coal and coke have traditionally been used in the blast furnace process to remove oxygen from the iron ore to create iron. In the HYBRIT process, SSAB aims to replace the coal and coke with hydrogen gas as a sustainable alternative.

To begin with, fossil-free electricity will be used in the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen. The HYBRIT process produces solid iron (sponge iron) which is then melted down in an electric arc furnace. Importantly, at this stage the by-product is water, not CO2.

Crucially, fossil-free electricity and fuels are used across the entire production process. The result: fossil-free steel. SSAB’s investment in HYBRIT fossil-free steel technology ensures fossil fuels stay in the ground.

Does green mean fossil-free?

Green is often, used as a term that means sustainable. However, green steel has no recognized definition and normally describes a product that does not meet any pre-defined criteria. However, SSAB aims for all fossil-free steel to be documented in an Environmental Protection Declaration (EPD), which will be reviewed by a third party and conform to strict European and international standards. This assurance will cover all aspects of the steel production process, delivering a fossil-free value chain to customers and end-users.

roads from above

Does the sustainable choice make business sense?

Fossil-free steel will be a premium product with a high customer value. Business decisions are often driven by the bottom line, and the higher cost of fossil-free steel is a challenge that is currently unavoidable. Initial infrastructure investments to make the shift from coal to electricity and hydrogen, from natural gas to biogas, and iron ore pellets to HYBRIT sponge iron represent a substantial cost burden. However, this is seen as a short-term hurdle that is worth overcoming for the benefits of the long-term.

Business choices that are being made today are triggering responses and reactions that will have a long-lasting impact on tomorrow’s business success, as well as the environment. Pressure on industries, businesses, and individuals to contribute and create sustainable global value chains will only increase, with legislation across the political spectrum already being enacted to force change.

Same high quality

Fossil-free steel does not compromise on quality and can be used in all industries. The properties of the steel will not change; the end product will still be the same high-quality steel. SSAB fossil-free steels will be created following the existing downstream steelmaking and heat treatment process – just produced exclusively with fossil-free electricity and biofuels.

Continuity and a guarantee on steel quality are an industry imperative, one which SSAB takes seriously. Retaining existing quality standards was a key factor in the sustainability investment program and the results are now clear; fossil-free steel is a reality.

Is the future here?

SSAB will launch fossil-free products gradually from 2026 and the order of this will depend on requests from customers. By 2030, SSAB aims to have all steel production sites equipped to produce fossil-free steel.

Further reading on fossil-free steel

steel bridge over water

What is fossil-free steel and why now?

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.

steel plates

Five reasons to choose fossil-free steel

Why choose fossil-free steel for your business when the cost price is higher than traditional steel and the bottom line might be impacted? Adding economic and environmental value to your business by investing in steel that has created zero carbon emissions during its production is just one factor; your business investment today is a commitment to improving tomorrow’s environment, for everyone.