Hydrogen supply will meet steel needs: panel

Hydrogen production capacity will expand to cover the requirements of a growing hydrogen-based steel industry but there will be bottlenecks in the short term. All technological routes must be ramped-up simultaneously to achieve the rapid scale-up required for decarbonisation, was the conclusion of panellists at Thursday’s Hydrogen Iron & Steel Making Forum in Stockholm.

Earlier during the event, the electrolyser industry was described by Lord Adair Turner, chairperson of the Energy Transitions Commission, as a “cottage industry” due to its hitherto limited production capacity. Siemens Energy vice president Nordics Joakim Lagerholm agreed but said the ramp-up is happening quickly, with multiple actors investing in supply. The bottleneck will be to deliver hydrogen to the locations in which it is required.

NEL chief executive Håkon Volldal said at the event monitored by Kallanish that billions are being invested into large-scale electrolysis plants to produce hydrogen. Moreover, the technology is developing so fast that the required loading in each plant of iridium, a critical input for polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysis, is falling fast. Volldal added he is “absolutely convinced” the industry will be able to provide sufficient hydrogen to cover demand from the steel sector.

Linde executive director Pravin Mathur observed that achieving large enough scale of hydrogen production will be a challenge, as some electrolyser capacity will go to applications other than steel, such as e-mobility.

In terms of which technological route to back, Volldal commented, referring to the colour of hydrogen: “I’m a fan of green but I have nothing against blue … We are technology agnostic.” Hydrogen production needs to be scaled-up quickly using all technological routes.

Posco Holdings advisory professor Chang Won Yoon said scientists are trying to develop an electrode catalyst using non-precious metals, to avoid the iridium bottleneck. Solid oxidizers are meanwhile not available on a commercial scale but could be in ten years. One advantage of using these is they can be integrated with nuclear power plants, using those plants’ steam and heat to make hydrogen.

Mathur used the example of a direct reduced iron producer, for whom there are questions over whether green hydrogen supply reliability can be secured at the current time. Blue hydrogen offers this reliability but has to be produced in the right location to sequester CO2.

As a final comment, Volldal said enough hydrogen will be supplied to the steel industry, not in the short term, but in the medium and long term. Lagerholm agreed, provided the electricity supply is available.

Adam Smith Poland