Volvo Group to Start Using Fossil-Free Steel

Volvo Group says it will start experimenting with fossil-free steel during the 2021 calendar year, with the goal of building trucks with the material in 2023. (Volvo Truck Corporation)

Fossil-free steel is an uncommon commodity today. But as automakers and other large corporations take action to reduce their carbon footprint, references to these sorts of materials will become familiar. That’s because carbon and fossils are hiding in more products than you might realize.

The Volvo Group and its partner, SSAB Americas, which manufactures 100% recyclable steel out of 94% recycled materials, are taking action together. The companies have reviewed the fossil components of the steel that Volvo currently uses to build its vehicles and have signed an agreement that Volvo will start using fossil-free steel, starting with “trucks, construction equipment, and other products.”

Given Volvo’s environmental goals, this agreement is not surprising.

SSAB has been working on this kind of product since 2016, when it, the iron ore producer LKAB, and the energy company Vattenfall started the HYBRIT initiative. While still under development, HYBRIT technology promises that steel producers will be able to replace the coking coal that’s usually required to make steel from iron ore with fossil-free electricity and hydrogen. HYBRIT steel does not generate any fossil CO2 emissions during production and is made using fossil-free sponge iron, the company said.

Eliminating steel’s carbon footprint is no small thing. SSAB says that today’s steel industry generates 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions around the world. And, while SSAB’s long-term plan is to develop “a fossil-free value chain, from the mine to the end-product,” this will take a while to realize fully.

The proposed timeline looks like this:

  • This year, in 2021, Volvo will build its first vehicles using SSAB’s fossil-free steel, made using hydrogen.
  • In 2022, the production levels will ramp up to small-scale serial production. Volvo is not disclosing exact numbers, but these initial production vehicles will lead to “a gradual escalation towards mass production” sometime in or after 2023.
  • Looking further out, SSAB plans to bring fossil-free steel to the broader market in 2026 and that the entire company will be “practically fossil free” by 2045.

SSAB will start making fossil-free steel at its plants in Sweden, which it says have the “unique conditions for this kind of project, with good access to fossil-free electricity, the highest-quality iron ore, and a specialized, innovative steel industry.”

The company plans to start making fossil-free steel in the Americas around 2026.

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