German industry compares technology transition to open-heart surgery

Participants at recent industry conferences in Germany expressed their thoughts on the challenges the technical transition of the steel industry will bring for the players involved.

Unlike previous investments during the forty years of his career in the steel industry, the investment campaigns in direct reduced iron and hydrogen are a venture into murky territory, says Karl-Ulrich Köhler. The chief executive of Saarland mills Saarstahl and Dillinger noted during stockholders federation BDS’s Green Day conference earlier this month that “investments used to be made on the basis of economic considerations when you had clarity about the outcome. Now it is the other way round, in order to fight climate change.”

“Colleagues of mine call it ‘hara-kiri’, but we won’t make progress if we do not start at some point. And once we start, others will follow. We are banking on a positive dynamic,” Kallanish heard him say at the conference.

A similar defiance was expressed earlier by speakers at the ecoMetals Day in Düsseldorf last September. Christian Vietmeyer of fabricators federation WSM drew a comparison with the progress that has been triggered by necessity because of Covid-19. “When the pandemic broke out, we did not have any vaccine, either, but then it came,” he said. He added: “We do see the road towards hydrogen ahead, but we need the will to go down it.”

Gunther Kegel, president of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI) pointed at the big changes the hydrogen conversion will mean for municipal utilities during ongoing operation. “It will need investors, it will require external monitoring, and the management floors will be restructured – and we have not even started with that,” he noted. “It will be like open heart surgery.”

Christian Koehl Germany