Fossil-fuel-free steel is steel made without using any fossil fuels. Traditional steelmaking requires the use of coal and its carbon-rich byproduct coke, which is harmful to the environment. Fossil-fuel-free (FFF) steel instead relies on Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology (HYBRIT) technology to reduce carbon emissions.
Three companies are credited with creating FFF steel: steel producer SSAB, iron ore producer LKAB, and energy company Vattenfall. They started in 2016 by first developing hydrogen-reduced sponge iron and then turning that into steel that can be used in electric vehicles or things like wind turbines to further increase the environmental friendliness of these products.
According to SSAB, HYBRIT technology could reduce Sweden's total carbon dioxide emissions by around ten percent (SSAB is based in Sweden) or Finland's by approximately seven percent. If such predictions come true, FFF could have a significant positive contribution to the battle against climate change.
Automakers are not wasting time adopting fossil-free steel. Earlier this year, Volvo Group was the first to announce that it would use FFF steel in its products, and the first batch from SSAB was delivered to Volvo in August of 2021. That timing is right in line with Volvo’s claim earlier this year that it would build its first vehicles using FFF steel some time in 2021.
In September, two other automotive companies announced they would get into the FFF steel game. Faurecia said it would collaborate with SSAB to make fossil-free steel automotive seat structures and Mercedes-Benz is also planning to use this greener steel in some prototype parts for its vehicles, and as early as 2022. That’s just the start for Mercedes, though, which plans to make sure its entire value chain for its new passenger car fleet will be carbon dioxide-neutral by 2039, at the latest.
Moving forward, SSAB’s plan is to ramp up small-scale serial production of FFF steel throughout 2022. Volvo will increase its use of FFF steel to get to "a gradual escalation towards mass production" sometime in or after 2023. These preliminary trials are all meant to get SSAB to the point where it can produce enough FFF steel to offer it at industrial scale in 2026.
Looking further out, SSAB plans be "practically fossil free" by 2045. Expect more automakers to investigate this technology between now and then.