Decarbonising the steel industry and making it more sustainable in the face of global CO2 emissions’ reductions legislation has been a challenge and, as SSAB has demonstrated, it is more than up to it.
In the manner of responsible companies around the world, SSAB has been driving its business towards meeting internationally recognised sustainability and climate change targets. Thus, it has laid out plans to strictly comply with environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) principles in all its businesses.
It wants to be recognised as a company that displays a conscientious regard for the social and environmental effects it has on its suppliers and customers, and therefore on the world. All aspects of its future business plans are geared towards reaching its vision of ‘stronger, lighter and more sustainable steel’.
This is why the company is extremely strict in monitoring, not just which supplier it buys from, but also ensuring the provenance of source materials in products that SSAB buys are compliant with its Supplier Sustainability Policy, which is based on the UN Global Compact principles to which it is a signatory.
By making certain policy-compliant materials and products are being sourced, they can be sure any statements it makes with regards to the sustainability of its own products, can be supported by documentary evidence of that suppliers’ compliance to SSAB’s policies.
SSAB’s sustainability strategy is two-pronged. It aims to be the first producer of fossil-free steel and has a target of achieving this by 2026 and, until January this year, had further goals of its steel production being completely fossil-free by 2045.
On 28 January 2020, however, CEO Martin Lindqvist said, “Our customers are demanding fossil-free products from SSAB”, and promptly announced the company would bring forward achieving its net-zero emissions goals for all its operations by 2030-2035 at a cost of around $4.8 billion.
He also said that all coal-fired blast furnaces would be replaced with electric arc furnaces (EAF) technology at its four mills in Sweden and Finland. This investment alone will reduce Sweden’s national emissions by 10% from current levels, and 7% for Finland.
The second is to be able to demonstrate sustainability in all its businesses.
HYBRIT Technology partnership
SSAB has partnered with LKAB, an iron ore supplier, and Vattenfall, an energy producer, both from Sweden. This partnership, called HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology), has the aim of joint research and development in creating a fossil-free steel production value chain from ore mine to steel product, using fossil-free electricity and hydrogen, under the umbrella of core ESG principles.
This complete focus on redesigning the steelmaking process, to be as sustainable as possible, will provide a significant reduction in the environmental impact of its customers’ products as well.
SSAB’s ‘better steel’ will be made using extremely CO2-efficient EAFs. The high-strength steel in turn helps the customer save weight and material quantity to make lighter and stronger products, helping reduce their carbon footprint.
SSAB has an ambition to largely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and are continuing to become resource-efficient and responsible for their environmental impact through careful use of raw materials, energy and steel production by-products.
Treatment of steel by-products
SSAB produces something in the region of 4 million tonnes of by-products from its Nordic ore-based production operations. Around half is recirculated into its own businesses, while the majority of the rest of the by-products are sold to other companies.
Some examples are:
- Road construction, agriculture and cement industries have uses for blast furnace slag
- Basic oxygen steelmaking sludge is formed into briquettes that are used as raw material
- Ladle slag from continuous casting processes becomes raw material for blast furnaces
- Desulfurization slag is used for infrastructure construction
- The metal in ladle slag returns to the iron and steelmaking process
- Some of the non-metallic ladle slag goes back into blast furnaces, replacing limestone, with even the remaining tiny fraction sold as a liming agent to agriculture.
Steel production methods
SSAB uses two different processes to produce steel. High-emissions blast furnace-based production uses iron ore as the raw material for steelmaking, and EAFs, which use scrap and recycled steel.
Scrap makes up only 30% of the demand for new steel, so it has to rely on iron ore to fulfill its production requirements. It plans, however, to increase scrap steel usage to 50% by 2050, reducing its reliance on iron ore.
It is also gearing towards more EAFs for its various sites, to support the increased scrap steel smelting, a process that can reduce emissions by 84-95%. Its operation in America is a great model to display its commitment to a lower carbon footprint. The numbers and facts from it are impressive.
SSAB Americas’ products are:
- 100% recyclable steel
- Uses and is made from 97% recycled materials
- High strength of its steel can add years to the lifecycle of products.
SSAB Americas’ production process uses:
- Recovered scrap tires as a raw material substitute for carbon in its production process
- The mill in Iowa is expected to be powered completely by renewable energy by 2022
- Results in 62% fewer CO2 emissions compared to the 2018 US steel industry average
- Has reduced its energy consumption by nearly 20% since 2010.
- Recycles millions of gallons of water through conservation.
SSAB’s EcoUpgraded concept
SSAB has also initiated some schemes in Europe to help current and prospective customers understand the value of their carbon footprint in relation to the steel they use to make their products. One such is SSAB’s EcoUpgraded concept. This aims to help customers identify how their products might be used by end-users and compare the potential CO2 saving they might make if they used SSAB steel for their manufacturing. Using high-strength steel, which has lower CO2 emissions during its production than standard steel, can help customers reduce their product’s carbon footprint, while increasing its usage lifetime.
SSAB can examine any product to compare CO2 emissions savings its steel would have allowed a manufacturer of the product to make. This simple understanding of this emissions differential can allow a customer to decide on which steel would be greener and more cost-effective for their products.
EcoUpgraded can help save CO2 both in steel production and during the full lifetime of the end product. It has built a proprietary app, in which a customer enters details of the product they want to analyse. They will be presented with a report on estimated savings of:
- Fuel savings over equipment lifetime
- CO2savings over equipment lifetime
- CO2 payback time.
SSAB in the circular economy
The company is moving away from a linear business model, where products are made, used and then scrapped. They are focusing on adopting a circular business model, where products are made, used, repaired, reused, returned and recycled.
Its research and development department is continuously working to innovate both steel production processes and products, to make them stronger and lighter using less energy in production. And as most of the environmental impact comes from the end product’s use phase, they aim to reduce its carbon footprint by extending usage lifetime.
Fossil free products by 2030
The company plans that all steel it produces will be fossil-free by 2030. Their furnace technology changes to EAFs at all plants will underpin this vision of achieving sustainability across all its brands. Some of the steel brands are:
Armox® – Armoured protection
Ramor® – Ballistic steel
Hardox® – High resistance to abrasion
Docol® – For vehicles
Strenx® – Premium construction steels
For further information, please visit SSAB -Sustainability