Two firms have trialed the use of hydrogen to heat steel at a facility in Sweden, a move that could eventually help to make the industry more sustainable.
Earlier this week Ovako, which specializes in manufacturing a specific type of steel called engineering steel, said it had collaborated with Linde Gas on the project at the Hofors rolling mill.
For the trial, hydrogen was used as a fuel to generate the heat instead of liquefied petroleum gas. Ovako sought to highlight the environmental benefit of using hydrogen in the combustion process, noting that the only emission produced was water vapor.
"This is a major development for the steel industry," Göran Nyström, Ovako's executive vice president for group marketing and technology, said in a statement.
"It is the first time that hydrogen has been used to heat steel in an existing production environment," he added.
"Thanks to the trial, we know that hydrogen can be used simply and flexibly, with no impact on steel quality, which would mean a very large reduction in the carbon footprint."
As with many industrial sectors, the steel industry has quite a significant impact on the environment. According to the World Steel Association, on average, 1.85 metric tons of carbon dioxide were emitted for each metric ton of steel produced in 2018. The International Energy Agency has described the steel sector as being "highly reliant on coal, which supplies 75% of energy demand."
The European Commission has described hydrogen as an energy carrier with "great potential for clean, efficient power in stationary, portable and transport applications."
While hydrogen undoubtedly has potential, there are some challenges when it comes to producing it.
As the U.S. Department of Energy has noted, hydrogen does not usually "exist by itself in nature" and needs to be generated from compounds containing it.
A number of sources — from fossil fuels and solar, to geothermal — can produce hydrogen. If renewable sources are used in its production, it's dubbed "green hydrogen."
While cost is still a concern, the last few years have seen hydrogen used in a number of transport settings such as trains, cars and buses.
In the latest example of major transportation firms taking steps to push the technology into the mainstream, the Volvo Group and Daimler Truck recently announced plans for a collaboration focusing on hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
The two firms said they had established a 50/50 joint venture, looking to "develop, produce and commercialize fuel cell systems for heavy-duty vehicle applications and other use cases."