Tag Archives: HYBRIT

HYBRIT partners inaugurate fossil-free hydrogen gas storage pilot facility

SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall have, today, inaugurated HYBRIT’s pilot facility for fossil-free hydrogen gas storage at Svartöberget in Luleå, Sweden.

The rock cavern storage facility is the first of its kind in the world, with the inauguration ceremony marking the start of the two-year test period, which will run until 2024.

The HYBRIT initiative was launched in 2016 by the three owners: SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall. Within this, the hydrogen storage facility will play a very important role in the overall value chain for fossil-free iron and steel production. Producing fossil-free hydrogen gas when there is a lot of electricity, for example when it is very windy, and using stored hydrogen gas when the electricity system is under strain, will ensure a steady production of sponge iron, the raw material behind fossil-free steel, the partners said.

The technology for storing gas in a lined rock cavern (LRC) is well proven and has been used in southern Sweden for about 20 years for storing natural gas, the partners says. Now the technology is taking a step forward by the development for storage of hydrogen gas. The storage facility is set to be used more dynamically, being filled and emptied at pace with the hydrogen production.

The pilot plant has a size of 100 cu.m. At a later stage, a full-scale hydrogen gas storage facility measuring 100,000-120,000 cu.m may be required, in which case it will be able to store up to 100 GWh of electricity converted to hydrogen gas, which is sufficient to supply a full-sized sponge iron factory for three to four days.

Andreas Regnell, Chairman of the Board, Hybrit Development AB (HDAB), and Senior Vice President and Head of Strategic Development at Vattenfall, said: “We want to develop HYBRIT so that it is in line with the electricity system of the future, with more weather-dependent electricity generation. The storage facility is unique and, once again, the HYBRIT initiative is taking the lead in the fossil-free transition. HYBRIT is very important for facing the climate challenge and enabling fossil-free living within one generation.”

Martin Pei, CTO at SSAB, added: “SSAB has the opportunity to transform our operations and cut 10% of Sweden’s total carbon dioxide emissions as well as 7% of Finland’s, and this will take us one step closer to our goal. The hydrogen storage facility is an important piece of the puzzle in ensuring stable steel production and a milestone in the development of HYBRIT.”

Lars Ydreskog, Senior Vice President Strategic Projects at LKAB, said hydrogen gas and its storage were central to its transition.

“In four years, HYBRIT technology will be used on a large scale in the first demonstration plant in Gällivare, and the plan is to then build more sponge iron factories,” Ydreskog said. “LKAB will, therefore, need to become one of Europe’s biggest hydrogen producers, and this pilot project will provide valuable knowledge for the continuing work on creating the world’s first fossil-free value chain for the iron and steel industry.”

Using HYBRIT technology, SSAB can reduce Sweden’s carbon dioxide emissions by 10%. SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall have invested a total of SEK259 million ($25 million) in the hydrogen storage itself, divided into three equal parts, and the Swedish Energy Agency has contributed with SEK72 million.

LKAB accelerates carbon-dioxide-free sponge iron plans

LKAB says it is boosting both the pace and the level of ambition of its plans towards transitioning to carbon-dioxide-free sponge iron following a successful exploration program.

A dramatic increase in mineral resources means that the plan for future production of sponge iron has been upped to 24.4 Mt/y by 2050. This will enable a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions among global steel industry customers corresponding to nearly all of Sweden’s current greenhouse gas emissions, LKAB says.

“The climate can’t wait and demand for the raw material for producing fossil-free steel is already upon us – before we have even reached the market,” Jan Moström, LKAB’s President and CEO, said.

In March 2022, LKAB reported increased mineral reserves and mineral resources, referencing deposits containing about 4,000 Mt, which will enable production far beyond 2060. LKAB’s known mineral reserves and resources now add up to double the amount thus far mined in the company’s 130-year history.

“We are accelerating and expanding the plans for future production of sponge iron produced with hydrogen,” Moström said.

LKAB is now moving towards a rapid industrialisation of the HYBRIT technology for transforming production in Malmberget/Gällivare, which is closely integrated with SSAB. The plan is to synchronise the transition with SSAB’s planned transition and to have switched entirely from pellet production to sponge iron amounting to some 5.4 Mt by the 2030s. This will enable emissions reductions amounting to about 9 Mt at SSAB.

Moström added: “After the most recent climate reports from the UN, the urgency of the climate issue must be obvious to everyone. We can see that this transition also makes good business sense and that it creates jobs, growth and yield on investments. By leading the way towards the green transition, we are also building Sweden’s competitive advantage internationally.

“The entire value chain must undergo a transformation, and quickly. The HYBRIT technology, which we have developed in collaboration with SSAB and Vattenfall, will be industrialised starting in Gällivare, where the first plant will be operational in 2026. The capacity increase LKAB is now planning corresponds to three more such facilities in Malmberget/Gällivare within barely a few years after commissioning of the first HYBRIT plant.”

When the transition has been completed, with increased production, by around 2050, the target is for LKAB to produce 24.4 Mt/y of sponge iron, with zero carbon dioxide emissions. By removing the oxygen from the iron ore by means of electrically-produced hydrogen gas, instead of the steel mills using fossil carbon in blast furnaces, LKAB can enable reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of between 40-50 Mt/y at steelmaking customers. That corresponds to nearly all of Sweden’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions.

A rapid transition places higher demands on fossil-free electricity and more power distribution infrastructure. LKAB’s demand, needed mainly for hydrogen gas production, is estimated at 20 TWh/y by 2030, increasing to 50 TWh/y by 2040 and finally reaching 70 TWh/y when the entire expansion has been realised by 2050.

“To make the climate transition a reality, we will need a massive expansion of power production and distribution,” Moström said. “We need to double electricity production within the next 25 years, and the iron and steel industry value chain is waiting for very other TWh of this.”

The switch from pellets to sponge iron also means that the value of the product increases significantly, according to LKAB.

Moström concluded: “In terms of today’s market prices, this expansion would triple LKAB’s revenue. By building up production of sponge iron, we are increasing the value of LKAB’s, and thereby Sweden’s, mineral reserves and resources, and creating growing export values. Above all, we are making an enormous effort for the benefit of the climate.”

Epiroc, SSAB to partner on fossil-free steel use in mining equipment

Epiroc says it is starting a partnership with steelmaker SSAB to secure fossil-free steel for use in the production of Epiroc’s mining equipment.

SSAB aims to deliver fossil-free steel to the market in commercial scale during 2026, and delivered the first steel made of hydrogen-reduced iron in 2021. It is working with iron ore producer LKAB and energy company Vattenfall as part of the HYBRIT initiative to develop a value chain for fossil-free iron and steel production, replacing coking coal traditionally needed for iron ore-based steelmaking, with fossil-free electricity and hydrogen. This process virtually eliminates carbon dioxide-emissions in steel production, according to the HYBRIT partners.

Epiroc will initially use fossil-free steel for material for a prototype underground machine produced at its facility in Örebro, Sweden, and the plan is to increase the usage of fossil-free steel over time.

“Sustainability is integrated in everything we do, and we are committed to halving our CO2e emissions by 2030,” Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s President and CEO, says. “This exciting partnership with SSAB will support us and our customers on the journey to reach our very ambitious climate goals. It is clear that our innovation agenda goes hand-in-hand with our customers’ sustainability agenda.”

Martin Lindqvist, SSAB’s President and CEO, said: “We are very happy to welcome Epiroc in our partner group and look forward to the fossil-free steel collaboration.It’s a natural next step in our joint efforts to mitigate climate change. Demand for fossil-free steel is increasing, which is one of the reasons for SSAB to bring forward its green transition with the ambition to largely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions around 2030.”

In the shift to a low-carbon economy, development of new technologies like this is crucial for making the transition possible, Epiroc says. The partnership with SSAB fits well with Epiroc’s ambitious sustainability goals for 2030, including halving its CO2e emissions.

In 2021, Epiroc received validation from the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) for its targets to reduce emissions in own operations as well as when customers use the sold products. The SBTi validated Epiroc’s climate targets as being in line with keeping global warming at a maximum 1.5°C, consistent with the latest climate science and the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition, Epiroc’s 2030 sustainability goals include halving its CO2e emissions in transport as well as from relevant suppliers, having 90% renewable energy in own operations, and offering a full range of emissions-free products.

Last year, Volvo Group revealed what it said was the world’s first vehicle made of fossil-free steel from SSAB, plus announced that more vehicles will follow in 2022 in what will be a series of concept vehicles and components using the material.

Nordic Iron Ore plotting entry into steel’s circular economy at Blötberget

With the world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron having just been produced, most of the globe’s iron and steel companies are evaluating how they can continue to play a role in the steel-making industry of the future.

The HYBRIT project milestone in Sweden has global ramifications for a sector that is among the three biggest producers of carbon dioxide, according to McKinsey. Incorporation of fossil-free technology to produce ‘green iron’ that can lead onto ‘green steel’ is viewed as one of the ways the sector can clean up its act and stay relevant in a society that is increasingly focused on greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability.

Nordic Iron Ore, the owner of the Blötberget iron ore project in the Bergslagen mining region of Sweden, is one of a few companies blessed with the potential to produce higher-grade magnetite that could fit into this brave new steel-making world.

Paul Marsden, Technical and Marketing Advisor for Nordic Iron Ore, explains: “There is a lot of investment interest in Sweden and elsewhere for projects associated with these goals. We’re looking at how our place in that might work, but, as we have demonstrated that we can make products in excess of 71% Fe, I would suggest that we can definitely fit the bill.”

It is not only the grade of iron Nordic Iron Ore intends to produce that is in its favour in this regard; the asset it intends to extract ore from is a past producer, having last closed up shop in 1979.

The old headframe in Blötberget

The most recent estimates state that the company could produce upwards of 4 Mt/y of high-quality iron ore at full tilt from an underground operation. The initial development, Blötberget, is planned as an underground post pillar cut and fill (PPCF) mine using backfill to reduce surface impact and maintain the high-grade of the run-of-mine ore after extraction. Construction is envisaged to take around two years, with an aim to use as much of the project’s magnetite resources as possible.

“At the moment, we’re still going to be a niche producer with low tonnages,” Marsden told IM. “Phase one is likely to start at around 1.65 Mt/y, but phase two and three could get us up to 4-5 Mt/y of high-quality products.

“At the same time, we see ourselves fitting into a changing European steel scene where you have got to be looking at lower carbon output, higher productivity per unit and a move into pelletising or DRI (sponge iron) as a high priority.”

How the company will do this is still to be confirmed, but some of the recent agreements Nordic Iron Ore has signed indicate there is intent behind the ambitions.

It has enlisted the help of Paterson & Cooke to evaluate alternatives for its waste management process (fine tailings were previously anticipated to be deposited in an existing tailing dam) that “significantly reduces the environmental impact of the mining operations but is also attractive from an economic standpoint”.

It has enlisted the help of Sweden-based VB Energi to supply electricity to the site from renewable sources.

Nordic Iron Ore took part in the Smart Exploration project, an EU-funded collaboration between universities and companies from eleven countries. One of the project’s aims was to develop environmentally-friendly methods of geophysical exploration, with Smart Exploration teams conducting several evaluations at Ludvika Mines (part of the Blötberget project) using prototype equipment producing more accurate measurements primarily in the fields of seismology and electromagnetics

It has also signed an MoU with Epiroc Sweden, with the two companies cooperating on the mining project development.

Nordic Iron Ore’s CEO, Lennart Eliasson, said this OEM partnership, in particular, was important to the company’s aims of operating a modern mine able to deploy the latest technologies for high productivity and safety, and long-term sustainability.

Marsden provided a bit more background on this agreement: “The definitive feasibility study we had previously completed with Golder Group by the end of 2019 was what you would consider a ‘traditional mine’ – it included diesel-powered loading and haulage with operators. It wasn’t really what we were aiming for, but it gave us an economic study to go to market with.

“We have since had conversations with the likes of Epiroc, ABB and others at the forefront of pushing new technologies like automation, electrification and digitalisation. They are interested in producing a ‘showcase mine’ for Sweden.”

Marsden says there is potential for leveraging the technology learnings on projects such as LKAB’s Kiruna and Konsuln mines, Boliden’s underground operations and Lundin Mining’s Zinkgruvan operation to make Blötberget “future ready”.

He added: “We cannot automate and electrify it all from the off, but we can lay the groundwork to eventually automate and electrify just about everything in the mine.”

What the company needs now is backing from investors to solidify its plan for Blötberget.

Some $8-10 million should allow the company to assess improvements – the potential to access old resources close to a planned underground decline, earlier revenue generators such as toll treatment of high-grade concentrate, and right-sizing the process flowsheet – and bolster the team to see it through mine construction.

After that, it will be a matter of aligning with offtake partners intent on sustainable steel production with a premium iron ore concentrate that suits the industry’s ‘green’ sentiment.

HYBRIT partners produce world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron

SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall say they have now produced the world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron at a pilot scale.

The technological breakthrough in the HYBRIT initiative captures around 90% of emissions in conjunction with steelmaking and is a decisive step on the road to fossil-free steel, the partners say.

The feat from the HYBRIT pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden, showed it is possible to use fossil-free hydrogen gas to reduce iron ore instead of using coal and coke to remove the oxygen. Production has been continuous and of good quality, the companies said, with around 100 t made so far.

This is the first time ever that hydrogen made with fossil-free electricity has been used in the direct reduction of iron ore at a pilot scale, according to the HYBRIT partners. The goal, in principle, is to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the steelmaking process by using only fossil-free feedstock and fossil-free energy in all parts of the value chain.

Hydrogen-based reduction is a critical milestone, which paves the way for future fossil-free iron and steelmaking. SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall intend, through HYBRIT, to create the most efficient value chain from the mine to steel, with the aim of being first to market, in 2026, with fossil-free steel at an industrial scale, they say.

Last year, HYBRIT, a joint initiative of SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, began test operations to make hydrogen-reduced sponge iron in the pilot plant built with support from the Swedish Energy Agency. The technology is being constantly developed and the sponge iron that has been successfully made using hydrogen technology is the feedstock for the fossil-free steel of the future, they say.

Jan Moström, President and CEO at LKAB, said: “This is a major breakthrough both for us and for the entire iron and steel industry. LKAB is the future supplier of sponge iron and this is a critical step in the right direction. Progress with HYBRIT enables us to maintain the pace in our transition and, already in 2026, we will begin the switch to industrial-scale production with the first demonstration plant in Gällivare, Sweden. Once LKAB has converted its entire production to sponge iron, we will enable the transition of the steel industry and reduce global emissions by around 35 Mt a year, which corresponds to two thirds of Sweden’s entire emissions. This is the greatest action we can take together for the good of the climate.”

Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO at SSAB, added: “This technological breakthrough is a critical step on the road to fossil-free steel. The potential cannot be underestimated. It means that we can reach climate goals in Sweden and Finland and contribute to reducing emissions across Europe. At the same time, it creates new jobs and export successes. SSAB’s transition means we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in Sweden and 7% in Finland. High-strength fossil-free steel will also allow us to help our customers to strengthen their competitiveness. As early as this year, we will deliver minor quantities of steel made using hydrogen-based reduction to customers, and in 2026 we will deliver fossil-free steel at a large scale.”

The hydrogen used in the direct reduction process is generated by electrolysis of water with fossil-free electricity, and can be used immediately or stored for later use, according to the partners. In May, HYBRIT began work on building a pilot-scale hydrogen storage facility adjacent to the direct reduction pilot plant in Luleå.

Anna Borg, President and CEO at Vattenfall, said: “Sweden’s and Vattenfall’s fossil-free electricity is a basic requirement for the low carbon footprint of hydrogen-reduced sponge iron. The breakthrough that we can announce today shows in a very real way how electrification contributes to enabling a fossil-free life within a generation.”

Howden to deliver hydrogen storage compression solution for HYBRIT

Howden says it has been selected to deliver a hydrogen storage compression solution for HYBRIT, the world’s first fossil-free steel plant, in Svartöberget, Sweden.

A joint project between Sweden’s SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, HYBRIT is the deployment of a unique pilot project for large-scale hydrogen storage. This initiative leads the development of the world’s first fossil-free value chain for the iron and steel industry, to address renewable hydrogen storage.

Howden has been contracted to supply a high-pressure diaphragm compression package to seamlessly integrate the storage cycle of the hydrogen production. The hydrogen compression includes installation and commissioning of a packaged three stage diaphragm compressor.

The storage facility consists of a 100 cu.m hydrogen storage built in an enclosed rock cavern approximately 30 m below ground. This offers a cost-effective solution, with the necessary pressure required, to store large amounts of energy in the form of hydrogen, Howden said.

The reliability, efficiency and safety delivered by Howden’s compression solution matches with the large-scale hydrogen storage requirements, relative to the storage conditions and the evaluation of the amount of time during which the compression pressure remains at the desired level, it added.

HYBRIT supports the European Union’s Hydrogen Strategy and its ambition to install at least 6 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU by 2024 and at least 40 GW by 2030.

Salah Mahdy, Global Director – Hydrogen at Howden, said: “Our partnership with HYBRIT demonstrates Howden’s capabilities in developing and delivering state-of-art hydrogen compressor solutions, based on our long-standing compression expertise. We have over 100 years of experience in the compression of hydrogen, which is ideally placed to support the transition to a fossil-free energy system.

“We’re thrilled to be working on this ground-breaking project, which has the potential to reduce Sweden’s total carbon dioxide emissions by at least 10%. The steel industry currently accounts for about 7% of the world’s global carbon emissions, so the creation of a zero-emission steel is revolutionary, and may, in the future, help to reduce emissions from iron and steel production worldwide.”

Mikael Nordlander, Head of R&D Portfolio Industry Decarbonisation, Vattenfall, adds: “Fossil-free hydrogen is central to the HYBRIT process. Hydrogen can be produced cost-effectively through the electrolysis of water using fossil-free electricity. The hydrogen produced by the electrolysers can be used immediately or stored for later use. One of the key aspects of our storage facility relies on the hydrogen compression to be deployed in a contamination-free manner. Based on their proven technology, expertise and references, we are delighted to cooperate with Howden on the integration of a reliable compression solution for storage.”

Howden says it is focused on helping customers increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their air and gas handling processes enabling them to make sustainable improvements in their environmental impact. It designs, manufactures and supplies products, solutions and services to customers around the world across highly diversified end-markets and geographies.

HYBRIT partners start building underground fossil-free hydrogen storage facility in Luleå

SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall have commenced building a rock cavern storage facility for fossil-free hydrogen gas on a pilot scale next to the HYBRIT pilot facility for direct reduced iron in Luleå, northern Sweden.

This is an important step in the development of a fossil-free value chain for fossil-free steel, the companies said, with the investment of just over SEK250 million ($29 million) divided equally across the holding companies and the Swedish Energy Agency, which provides support via Industriklivet.

As part of the SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall joint HYBRIT initiative, Hybrit Development AB is starting the construction of a hydrogen storage facility in Svartöberget to develop the technology for storage.

Fossil-free hydrogen, which will replace coal and coke, is a crucial part of the production technique for fossil-free iron and steel production, where emissions of carbon dioxide will be virtually eliminated, the companies said. Hydrogen can be produced cost effectively through the electrolysis of water using fossil-free electricity. The hydrogen produced by the electrolysers can be used immediately or stored for later use.

Hydrogen storage is predicted to play a very important role in future power and energy balancing, and in large-scale hydrogen production, according to the companies. The storage facility is expected to be operational from 2022-2024.

Andreas Regnell, Head of Strategy at Vattenfall and Chairman of the Board at HYBRIT, said: “We’re really pleased that HYBRIT is continuing to lead the development of efficient production for fossil-free steel, as we’re now also building a pilot storage facility for large-scale fossil-free hydrogen in Luleå.

“Storage provides the opportunity to vary demand for electricity and stabilise the energy system by producing hydrogen when there’s a lot of electricity, for example in windy conditions, and to use stored hydrogen when the electricity system is under strain.”

Martin Pei, Technical Director of SSAB and Board member of HYBRIT, said: “By developing a method for hydrogen storage and securing access to fossil-free electricity, we’re creating a value chain all the way out to customers where everything is fossil-free – from the mine to the electricity and to the finished steel. This is unique.”

The 100 cu.m hydrogen storage is being built in an enclosed rock cavern around 30 m below ground. Building the storage facility underground provides opportunities to ensure the pressure required to store large amounts of energy in the form of hydrogen in a cost-effective way, the companies said.

The technology used is adapted to Scandinavian bedrock conditions and will be further developed to handle the storage of hydrogen.

The storage facility is based on proven technology and the hydrogen is used in the plant’s direct reduction reactor to remove oxygen from iron ore pellets, the companies said. The fossil-free sponge iron resulting from the process is then used as a raw material in the manufacture of fossil-free steel.

Industrialisation of fossil-free steel under the HYBRIT initiative is intended to start with the first demonstration plant, which will be ready in 2026, for the production of 1.3 Mt of fossil-free sponge iron in Gällivare, Sweden. The goal is to expand sponge iron production to a full industrial scale of 2.7 Mt/y by 2030 to be able to supply SSAB, among others, with feedstock for fossil-free steel.

HYBRIT partners choose Gällivare for fossil-free sponge iron demonstration plant

SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall say they are taking a new, decisive leap forward in their work on HYBRIT, with the trio selecting Gällivare, in northern Sweden, as the location of the first production plant for its fossil-free sponge iron exercise.

Industrialisation is intended to start with the first demonstration plant, which will be ready in 2026, for the production of 1.3 Mt of fossil-free sponge iron in Gällivare. The demonstration plant will be integrated with iron pellet making and is part of LKAB’s transition plan.

The goal is to expand sponge iron production to a full industrial scale of 2.7 Mt by 2030 to be able to supply SSAB, among others, with feedstock for fossil-free steel. The choice of Gällivare for the demo plant was based on a joint assessment of industrial synergies, where proximity to iron ore, logistics, an electricity supply and energy optimisation were important factors, the companies said.

There are many advantages to locating the new sponge iron plant in Gällivare, which is also near LKAB’s mining production and processing plants. Using iron ore pellets that are already warm in the process will save huge amounts of energy, according to the companies. On top of this, 30% of weight will be eliminated from transport since hydrogen gas will be used to remove the oxygen in the iron ore. Gällivare also offers good access to fossil-free electricity from Vattenfall.

Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO at SSAB (centre), said: “We are world leaders in the work to transform the steel industry and are now stepping up the pace. We are doing this for the climate, customers, competitiveness and for employment. That we are now raising ambitions for a completely fossil-free value chain is unique and a message of strength from SSAB and our HYBRIT partners. We are seeing a clear increase in demand for fossil-free steel and it is right to speed up our ground-breaking cooperation.”

Jan Moström, President and CEO at LKAB (left), said the companies are leading the transformation of the iron and steel industry.

“The whole process starts with top quality iron ore in the mine and our transition plan gives strong economies of scale that pave the way for the competitive production of fossil-free steel by our customers,” he said. “This is the greatest thing we can do together for the climate. Once we are ready, we will reduce the global emissions of our customers by 35 Mt a year, which is equivalent to triple the effect of parking all passenger cars in Sweden for good.”

At the same time as announcing the Gällivare demo plant, SSAB and LKAB have agreed to deepen their partnership to create the “most effective fossil-free steel value chain from mine to steel, to customer”, they said.

“We will support and enable each other’s transformation, with Vattenfall an enabler of the huge need for electricity and hydrogen gas,” they said. “On the back of an acceleration of HYBRIT, together with LKAB’s strategy and deeper partnership, SSAB will now explore the prerequisites to convert to fossil-free steel production in Luleå faster than planned.”

The plan to convert its Oxelösund steel works in 2025 remains unchanged, as does its goal to be the first to market, in 2026, with fossil-free steel, SSAB clarified.

Anna Borg (right), President and CEO at Vattenfall, added: “Sweden and HYBRIT have a world-leading position in making fossil-free iron- and steelmaking a reality and the initiative will now be further scaled up. That fossil-free electricity and ground-breaking processes will in principle help to eliminate climate-affecting emissions completely from iron- and steelmaking is a flagship example of Vattenfall’s strategy to enable a fossil-free life within a generation. It is now extra important that the permit processes can deliver at the same pace as fossil-free steelmaking.”

Hybrit Development AB, which is owned by SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, is developing the technology to make steel using hydrogen gas instead of coal, which will minimise climate harmful carbon dioxide emissions from production. The HYBRIT pilot plant will be able to make fossil-free sponge iron to make fossil-free steel for prototypes to customers already in 2021.

The partners claim the initiative has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in Sweden and 7% in Finland, as well as contribute to cutting steel industry emissions in Europe and globally.

North sets Ferrexpo on a course for ‘carbon neutrality’

Ferrexpo is used to setting trends. It was the first company to launch a new open-pit iron ore mine in the CIS since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 and has recently become the first miner in Ukraine to adopt autonomous open-pit drilling and haulage technology.

It plans to keep up this innovative streak if a conversation with Acting CEO Jim North is anything to go by.

North, former Chief Operating Officer of London Mining and Ferrexpo, has seen the technology shift in mining first-hand. A holder of a variety of senior operational management roles in multiple commodities with Rio Tinto and BHP, he witnessed the take-off of autonomous haulage systems (AHS) in the Pilbara, as well as the productivity and operating cost benefits that came with removing operators from blasthole drills.

He says the rationale for adopting autonomous technology at Ferrexpo’s Yeristovo mine is slightly different to the traditional Pilbara investment case.

“This move was not based on reduction in salaries; it was all based on utilisation of capital,” North told IM. While miners receive comparatively good salaries in Ukraine, they cannot compete with the wages of those Pilbara haul truck drivers.

Ferrexpo Acting CEO, Jim North

North provided a bit of background here: “The focus for the last six years since I came into the company was about driving mining efficiencies and getting benchmark performance out of our mining fleet. This is not rocket science; it is all about carrying out good planning and executing to that plan.”

The company used the same philosophy in its process plant – a philosophy that is likely to see it produce close to 12 Mt of high grade (65% Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate next year.

Using his industry knowledge, North pitted Ferrexpo’s fleet performance against others on the global stage.

“Mining is a highly capital-intensive business and that equipment you buy has got be moving – either loaded or empty – throughout the day,” North said. “24 hours-a-day operation is impossible as you must put fuel in vehicles and you need to change operators, so, in the beginning, we focused on increasing the utilised hours. After a couple of years, I noticed we were getting very close to the benchmark performance globally set by the majors.

“If you are looking at pushing your utilisation further, it inevitably leads you to automation.”

Ferrexpo was up for pushing it further and, four years ago, started the process of going autonomous, with its Yeristovo iron ore mine, opened in 2011, the first candidate for an operational shakeup.

“Yeristovo is a far simpler configuration from a mining point of view,” North explained. “It is basically just a large box cut. Poltava, on the other hand (its other iron ore producing mine currently), has been around for 50 years; it is a very deep and complex operation.

“We thought the place to dip our toe into the water and get good at autonomy was Yeristovo.”

This started off in 2017 with deployment of teleremote operation on its Epiroc Pit Viper 275 blasthole drill rigs. The company has gradually increased the level of autonomy, progressing to remotely operating these rigs from a central control room. In 2021-2022, these rigs will move to fully-autonomous mode, North says.

Ferrexpo has also been leveraging remotely-operated technology for mine site surveying, employing drones to speed up and improve the accuracy of the process. The miner has invested in three of these drones to carry out not only site surveys, but stockpile mapping and – perhaps next year – engineering inspections.

“The productivity benefits from these drones are huge,” North said. “In just two days of drone operation, you can carry out the same amount of work it would take three or four surveyors to do in one or two weeks!”

OEM-agnostic solution

It is the haul truck segment of the mine automation project at Yeristovo that has caught the most industry attention, with Ferrexpo one of the first to choose an OEM-agnostic solution from a company outside of the big four open-pit mining haul truck manufacturers.

The company settled on a solution from ASI Mining, owned 34% by Epiroc, after the completion of a trial of the Mobius® Haulage A.I. system on a Cat 793D last year.

The first phase of the commercial project is already kicking off, with the first of six Cat 793s converted to autonomous mode now up and running at Yeristovo. On completion of this first phase of six trucks, consideration will be given to timing of further deployment for the remainder of the Yeristovo truck fleet.

This trial and rollout may appear fairly routine, but behind the scenes was an 18-month process to settle on ASI’s solution.

“For us, as a business, we have about 86 trucks deployed on site,” North said. “We simply couldn’t take the same route BHP or Rio took three or four years ago in acquiring an entirely new autonomous fleet. At that point, Cat and Komatsu were the only major OEMs offering these solutions and they were offering limited numbers of trucks models with no fleet integration possibilities.

“If you had a mixed fleet – which we do – then you were looking at a multi-hundred-million-dollar decision to change out your mining fleet. That is prohibitive for a business like ours.”

Ferrexpo personnel visited ASI Mining’s facility in Utah, USA, several times, hearing all about the parent company’s work with NASA on robotics. “We knew they had the technical capability to work in tough environments,” North remarked.

“We also saw work they had been doing with Ford and Toyota for a number of years on their unmanned vehicles, and we witnessed the object detect and collision avoidance solutions in action on a test track.”

Convinced by these demonstrations and with an eye to the future of its operations, Ferrexpo committed to an OEM-agnostic autonomous future.

“If we want to get to a fully autonomous fleet at some stage in the future, we will need to pick a provider that could turn any unit into an autonomous vehicle,” North said. It found that in ASI Mining’s Mobius platform.

Such due diligence is representative not only of the team’s thorough approach to this project, it also reflects the realities of deploying such a solution in Ukraine.

“It is all about building capability,” North said. “This is new technology in Ukraine – it’s not like you can go down the road and find somebody that has worked on this type of technology before. As a result, it’s all about training and building up the capacity in our workforce.”

After this expertise has been established, the automation rollout will inevitably accelerate.

“Once we have Yeristovo fully autonomous, we intend to move the autonomy program to Belanovo, which we started excavating a couple of years ago,” North said. “The last pit we would automate would be Poltava, purely due to complexity.”

Belanovo, which has a JORC Mineral Resource of 1,700 Mt, is currently mining overburden with 30-40 t ADTs shifting this material. While ASI Mining said it would be able to automate such machines, North decided the automation program will only begin when large fleet is deployed.

“When we deploy large fleet at Belanovo and start to move significant volumes, we intend for it to become a fully-autonomous operation,” he said.

Poltava, which is a single pit covering a 7 km long by 2 km wide area (pictured below), has a five-decade-long history and a more diverse mining fleet than Yeristovo. In this respect, it was always going to be harder to automate from a loading and haulage point of view.

“If you think about the fleet numbers deployed when Belanovo is running, we will probably have 50% of our fleet running autonomously,” North said. “The level of capability to run that level of technology would be high, so it makes sense to take on the more complex operation at Poltava at that point in time.”

Consolidation and decarbonisation

This autonomy transition has also given North and his team the chance to re-evaluate its fleet needs for now and in the future.

This is not as simple as it may sound to those thinking of a typical Pilbara AHS fleet deployment, with the Yeristovo and Poltava mines containing different ore types that require blending at the processing plant in order to sustain a cost-effective operation able to produce circa-12 Mt/y of high-grade (65%-plus Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate.

“That limits our ability in terms of fleet size for ore mining because we want to match the capacity of the fleet to the different ore streams we feed into the plant,” North said.

This has seen the company standardise on circa-220 t trucks for ore movement and 300-320 t trucks for waste haulage.

On the latter, North explained: “That is about shovel utilisation, not necessarily about trucks. If you go much larger than that 320-t truck, you are talking about the need to use large rope shovels and we don’t have enough consistent stripping requirements for that. We think the 800 t-class electric hydraulic excavator is a suitable match for the circa-320 t truck.”

This standardisation process at Poltava has seen BELAZ 40 t trucks previously working in the pit re-assigned for auxiliary work, with the smallest in-pit Cat 777 trucks acting as fuel, water and lubrication service vehicles at Poltava.

“The Cat 785s are the smallest operating primary fleet we have at Poltava,” North said. “We also have the Hitachi EH3500s and Cat 789s and Cat 793s, tending to keep the bigger fleet towards Yeristovo and the smaller fleet at Poltava.”

In carrying out this evaluation, the company has also plotted its next electrification steps.

“Given we have got to the point where we know we want 220 t for ore and 300-320 t nominally for waste at Yeristovo, we have a very clear understanding of where we are going in our efforts to support our climate action,” North said.

Electrification of the company’s entire operation – both the power generation and pelletising segment, and the mobile fleet – forms a significant part of its carbon reduction plans.

A 5 MW solar farm is being built to trial the efficacy of photovoltaic generation in the region, while, in the pelletiser, the company is blending sunflower husks with natural gas to power the process. Fine tuning over the past few years has seen the company settle on a 30:70 sunflower husk:natural gas energy ratio, allowing the company to make the most of a waste product in plentiful supply in Ukraine.

On top of this, the company is recuperating heat from the pelletisation process where possible and reusing it for other processes.

With a significant amount of ‘blue’ (nuclear) or ‘green’ (renewable) power available through the grid and plans to incorporate renewables on site, Ferrexpo looks to have the input part of the decarbonisation equation covered.

In the pellet lines, North says green hydrogen is believed to be the partial or full displacement solution for gas firing, with the company keenly watching developments such as the HYBRIT project in Sweden.

On the diesel side of things, Ferrexpo is also charting its decarbonisation course. This will start with a move to electric drive haul trucks in the next few years.

Power infrastructure is already available in the pits energising most of its electric-hydraulic shovels and backhoes, and the intention is for these new electric drive trucks to go on trolley line infrastructure to eradicate some of the operation’s diesel use.

“Initially we would still need to rely on diesel engines at the end of ramps and the bottom of pits, but our intention is to utilise some alternative powerpack on these trucks as the technology becomes available,” North said.

He expects that alternative powerpack to be battery-based, but he and the company are keeping their options open during conversations with OEMs about the fleet replacement plans.

“We know we are going to have to buy a fleet in the next couple of years, but the problem is when you make that sort of purchase, you are committing to using those machines for the next 20 years,” North said. “During all our conversations with OEMs we are recognising that we will need to buy a fleet before they have probably finalised their ‘decarbonised’ solutions, so all the contracts are based on the OEM providing that fully carbon-free solution when it becomes available.”

With around 15% of the company’s carbon footprint tied to diesel use, this could have a big impact on Ferrexpo’s ‘green’ credentials, yet the transition to trolley assist makes sense even without this sustainability benefit.

“The advantages in terms of mining productivity are huge,” North said. “You go from 15 km/h on ramp to just under 30 km/h on ramp.”

This is not all North offered up on the company’s carbon reduction plans.

At both of Ferrexpo’s operations, the company moves a lot of ore internally with shuttle trains, some of which are powered by diesel engines. A more environmentally friendly alternative is being sought for these locomotives.

“We are working with rail consultants that are delivering solutions for others to ‘fast follow’ that sector,” North said referencing the project already underway with Vale at its operations in Brazil. “We are investigating at the moment how we could design and deploy the solution at our operations for a lithium-ion battery loco.”

Not all the company’s decarbonisation and energy-efficiency initiatives started as recently as the last few years.

When examining a plan to reach 12 Mt/y of iron ore pellet production, North and his team looked at the whole ‘mine to mill’ approach.

“The cheapest place to optimise your comminution of rock is within the mine itself,” North said. “If you can optimise your blasting and get better fragmentation in the pit, you are saving energy, wear on materials, etc and you are doing some of the job of the concentrator and comminution process in the mine.”

A transition to a full emulsion blasting product came out of this study, and a move from NONEL detonators to electronic detonators could follow in the forthcoming years.

“That also led us into thinking about the future crusher – where we want to put it, what materials to feed into the expanded plant in the future, and what blending ratio we want to have from the pits,” North said. “The problem with pit development in a business that is moving 150-200 Mt of material a year is the crusher location needs to change as the mining horizons change.”

It ended up becoming a tradeoff between placing a new crusher in the pit on an assigned bench or putting it on top of the bench and hauling ore to that location.

The favoured location looks like being within the pit, according to North.

“It will be a substantial distance away from where our existing facility at Poltava is and we will convey the material into the plant,” he said. “We did the tradeoff study between hauling with trains/trucks, or conveying and, particularly for Belanovo, we need to take that ore to the crusher from the train network we already have in place.”

These internal ‘green’ initiatives are representative of the products Ferrexpo is supplying the steel industry.

Having shifted away from lower grade pellets to a higher-grade product in the past five years and started to introduce direct reduced iron pellet products to the market with trial shipments, Ferrexpo is looking to be a major player in the ‘green steel’ value chain.

North says as much.

“We are getting very close to understanding our path forward and our journey to carbon neutrality.”

LKAB plots carbon-free pathway with direct reduced iron switch

LKAB has presented its new strategy for the future, setting out a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045, while securing the company’s operations with expanded mining beyond 2060.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said the plan represented the biggest transformation in the company’s 130-year history, and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden.

“It creates unique opportunities to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and for Swedish industry to take the lead in a necessary global transformation,” he said.

The strategy sets out three main tracks for the transformation:

  • New world standard for mining;
  • Sponge iron (direct reduced iron) produced using green hydrogen will in time replace iron ore pellets, opening the way for a fossil-free iron and steel industry; and
  • Extract critical minerals from mine waste: using fossil-free technology to extract strategically important earth elements and phosphorous for mineral fertiliser from today’s mine waste.

The transformation is expected to require extensive investments in the order of SEK10-20 billion ($1.2-2.3 billion) a year over a period of around 15 to 20 years within LKAB’s operations alone. The company said the new strategy was a response to market developments in the global iron and steel industry, “which is undergoing a technology shift”.

The move could cut annual carbon dioxide emissions from the company’s customers worldwide by 35 Mt, equivalent to two thirds of Sweden’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

Developments under the HYBRIT project, in which SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall are collaborating on a process to enable the reduction of steel from iron ore using hydrogen instead of carbon, will be keenly observed following the miner’s announcement.

On top of this collaboration, LKAB is working with Sandvik, ABB, Combitec, Epiroc and several other industry leaders to develop the technology that will enable the transition to fossil-free, autonomous mines, it said.

Moström added: “The market for iron and steel will grow and, at the same time, the global economy is shifting towards a carbon-free future. Our carbon-free products will play an important part in the production of railways, wind farms, electric vehicles and industrial machinery.

“We will go from being part of the problem to being an important part of the solution.”

The market for steel is forecasted to grow by 50% by 2050. This growth will be achieved by an increase in the upgrading of recycled scrap in electric arc furnaces, according to LKAB. Today, the iron and steel industry accounts for more than a quarter of industrial emissions and for 7% of the world’s total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to an IEA report.

The company said: “The global market price for recycled scrap is now twice that of iron ore pellets. The carbon-free sponge iron that will in time replace iron ore pellets as LKAB’s main export product is suitable for arc furnaces, allowing the company to offer industries throughout the world access to carbon-free iron.”

Moström said the switch from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron was an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of its products at the same time as giving customers direct access to “carbon-free iron”.

“That’s good for the climate and good for our business,” he said. “This transformation will provide us with good opportunities to more than double our turnover by 2045.”

During the transformation period, LKAB will supply iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron.

To reach the new strategy’s goals, rapid solutions must be found for various complex issues, according to the company. These include permits, energy requirements and better conditions for research, development and innovation within primary industry.

Moström said: “Our transformation will dramatically improve Europe’s ability to achieve its climate goals. By reducing emissions primarily from our export business, we will achieve a reduction in global emissions that is equivalent to two-thirds of all Sweden’s carbon emissions. That’s three times greater than the effect of abandoning all cars in Sweden for good.

“It’s the biggest thing we in Sweden can do for the climate.”

Göran Persson, Chairman of the Board of LKAB, said: “What Swedish industry is now doing, spearheaded by LKAB, is to respond to the threatening climate crisis with innovation and technological change. In doing so, we are helping to secure a future for coming generations. This will also create new jobs in the county of Norrbotten, which will become a hub in a green industrial transformation. Succeeding in this will create ripples for generations to come. Not just here, but far beyond our borders.

“Now we are doing, what everyone says must be done.”