First fossil-fuel-free steel produced in Sweden [Innovation highlight]

Steel production is one of the world’s largest producers of carbon dioxide. In fact, some estimates say that it produces up to 8% of all carbon emissions.

But now a Swedish company called Hybrit (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology) has produced the first batch of what they say is the world’s first commercial steel created using hydrogen instead of carbon.

This was sent to Volvo for a trial and should begin commercial-scale production in 2026.

Traditional steel production mixes iron ore (iron oxide) and coal / coke (carbon). Under high heat, the carbon bonds to the oxygen from the iron oxide, leaving behind molten iron, which can be turned into steel.

However, Hybrit uses pure hydrogen to remove the oxygen and create pure iron. This produces water as the only byproduct.

However, hydrogen production also requires electricity. If the original source of the electricity comes from fossil fuels, then there would still be carbon emissions. The company claims that the hydrogen was produced using renewable sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower sources.

Therefore, the production of this steel results in zero fossil-fuel emissions.

The reason why this is such an important innovation is that there is always a green premium that makes new, environmentally friendly processes more expensive than the previous, polluting processes.

However, even if materials like steel were 10x as expensive, when factoring in the total cost of a product (like a car), the end-product cost would only be about 2% more expensive.

Therefore, if there is demand for products made with greener technologies, supply will rise to provide this demand. And as supply rises, economies of scale kick in and costs will also fall, eventually potentially to a level below what the previous technology could achieve (see what has happened with solar power production in the last decade).

So while this one delivery may be a small start, if people are willing to buy the product, it indicates an exciting start for the next steps.