The resourcefulness of the steel industry is being put to the test

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“Everything is characterized by climate change, both the management of one’s own resources and which material solutions one expects to be able to offer,” explains Gert Nilson, technical director at Jernkontoret when he describes the innovation landscape in the steel industry right now. The steel industry is in focus like never before with the huge, ground-breaking investments in fossil-free steel with SSAB’s Hybrit and the newly started H2 Green Steel. “The fossil-free projects are now well advanced and there it is a matter of going from pilot to demo and from demo to full scale. Of course, there are still challenges, mainly how to solve the electricity supply and the efficiency in the production of hydrogen,” says Gert Nilson. The Swedes are not alone, however, all self-respecting steel companies in the world now have projects that push towards freedom from fossil fuels. “However, some are content with initially being able to halve emissions with the help of natural gas. So it makes a lot of difference both how much of the production the companies expect to change and when they expect to be ready. Here, Sweden is still in the absolute lead.”Research and development took a whole part iron during the pandemic, also in the steel industry. Several companies talk about having built up a research debt and have lost momentum in several projects. The transition towards electrification and the hydrogen society leads to competition for both electricity and raw materials, which become important driving forces for today’s innovations. “We probably won’t get back to a level where they become cheaper again in the foreseeable future. A great deal of the innovation power today is spent on finding smarter housekeeping and utilization of resources,” explains Gert Nilson.Gert Nilson, technical director at the industry organization Jernkontoret. Photo: Pia Nordlander Companies have started using artificial intelligence to calculate the best possible scrap sorting in order to use their scrap in the best way and how to extract more from the residual products and perhaps access more difficult-to-reach elements.” It is becoming more and more valuable to meet part of the alloy requirement with scrap and then only have to buy in virgin alloys to season with. The better you know the alloy content of the scrap, the less virgin, increasingly expensive raw material you have to add.” The changeover also involves a row new material challenges that require new innovation.”The electrification of vehicles with changed weight distribution and such needs new material solutions. Likewise to transport hydrogen. Steel and hydrogen have a special love-hate relationship because hydrogen causes cracks in steel, and the more advanced steels, the more sensitive they are to hydrogen,” explains Gert Nilson. Most steel companies today have powders for additive manufacturing, 3D printing, in their product programs. “Additive manufacturing grew very quickly for a while, now it’s a bit difficult to find the next step. There are some things you struggle with, like the legislation. Because it means full design freedom, it is difficult to prove that the design holds up.” Jernkontoret themselves are now working on a project with additive manufacturing spare parts so you don’t have to keep spare parts inventory.”The big gains with additive manufacturing come when you free yourself from the design constraints of classical machining. Then you need to redraw your design to really take full advantage of additive manufacturing. That step is not easy to take from a standards and strength perspective,” says Gert Nilson.

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