Korean steelmaker POSCO has announced plans to increase its current annual hydrogen production capacity from 7,000 tons to 5 million tons by 2050. If successful, the initiative should significantly reduce the company’s carbon footprint. Whereas the blast furnaces in widespread use today deploy coke as the main reducing agent, replacing it with hydrogen would mean that water vapor would be generated instead of CO2,.
POSCO’s 30-year plan will culminate in the development of a five-million-ton green hydrogen production system by the midpoint of the century. The 7,000 tons of hydrogen that it currently produces are the by-product of the gas generated from its steel manufacturing process, and the company initially plans to hike up production capacity to 70,000 tons by 2025, and then to be capable of producing up to 500,000 tons of blue hydrogen (in cooperation with other global companies) by 2030. A two-million-ton green hydrogen production system is scheduled to be up and running by 2040.
About 7% of the CO2 emitted by humans is generated by the steel industry, with some 1.8 tons resulting per ton of crude steel produced. Last year, global CO2 emissions in the steel industry totalled 3.42bn tons, with Korea’s steel industry responsible for 130m tons, so the wider significance of POSCO’s initiative lies in the take-up of the technology by other steel manufacturers around the world.
In fact, POSCO now joins a pioneering pack of steel manufacturers exploring hydrogen’s potential to radically reduce the industry’s contribution to climate change. In 2016, the Swedish high-strength steel manufacturer SSAB joined forces with LKAB (Europe’s largest iron ore producer) and the Vattenfall energy company to develop their proprietorial Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology (HYBRIT) . More recently, LKAB announced that it was to invest up to $46 billion over the next 15–20 years in HYBRIT’s roll-out.
In Germany, the multinational steel production company ArcelorMittal is also taking steps to reduce its carbon emissions by outfitting a production plant to use hydrogen for iron ore reduction. It also plans to partner with the University of Freiberg to test a hydrogen procedure at its Hamburg steel production plant.