German steel company uses ‘green’ hydrogen produced with wind turbines

Workers clean the bay from the furnace at the Salzgitter AG steel plant in Salzgitter, Germany, on 2 March 2020.

MORRIS MAC MATZEN | AFP | Getty Images

An important green hydrogen plant in Germany has started, and those behind the project hope that it will help the energy-intensive steel industry to produce carbon dioxide in the coming years.

The “WindH2” project involves the German steel giant Salzgitter, the E.ON subsidiary Avacon en Linde, a company specializing in engineering and industrial gases.

Hydrogen can be produced in different ways. One method involves the use of electrolysis, with an electric current that divides water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used in the process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar power, it is called ‘green’ or ‘renewable’ hydrogen.

The development in Germany focuses on seven new wind turbines operated by Avacon and two 1.25 megawatts (MW) electrolysis units installed by Salzgitter Flachstahl, which is part of the broader Salzgitter group. The facilities were presented to the public this week.

Vestas’ turbines have a hub height of 169 meters and a combined capacity of 30 MW. All are located on the premises of the Salzgitter Group, three of which are located on the premises of a steel factory in the city of Salzgitter, Lower Saxony, northern Germany.

The hydrogen produced with renewable energy will be used in processes related to the melting of iron ore. The total cost of the project is approximately 50 million euros (approximately $ 59.67 million), with the construction of electrolysers subsidized by the state-owned KfW.

“Green gases have the means to become ‘staple foods’ for the transition to alternative energy and to make a significant contribution to the carbon-fueled industry, mobility and heat,” said Johannes Teyssen, CEO of E.ON, in a statement issued Thursday.

“The jointly realized project symbolizes a milestone on the road to virtually CO2-free production and demonstrates that fossil fuels can be replaced by intelligent sectoral coupling,” he added.

According to the International Energy Agency, the iron and steel sector is responsible for 2.6 gigatons of direct carbon dioxide emissions each year, which in 2019 was greater than the direct emissions of sectors such as cement and chemicals.

It adds that the steel sector “is the largest industrial consumer of coal, supplying about 75% of its energy needs.”

The project in Germany is not unique in focusing on the role that green hydrogen can play in steelmaking.

H2 Green Steel, a Swedish firm backed by investors, including Spotify founder Daniel Ek, plans to build a steel production facility in the north of the country that will be powered by what he describes as’ the world’s largest green hydrogen plant ‘.

In an announcement last month, the company said steel production would start in 2024 and be in the Norrbotten region of Sweden.

Other energy-intensive industries are also exploring the potential of green hydrogen. A subsidiary of the multinational building materials firm HeidelbergCement, for example, worked with researchers from Swansea University to install and operate a green hydrogen demonstration unit at a site in the United Kingdom.

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