The steel industry, a cornerstone of modern civilization, is undergoing a revolutionary transformation to become more environmentally sustainable. Georgsmarienhütte (GMH), a steel manufacturer located south of Oldenburg in Germany, has set ambitious goals to decarbonize its entire production by 2039. As an interim step, the company aims to cut its emissions in half by 2030. Central to this transformation is the adoption of hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas in the steel production process.
Traditional steel production methods are notorious for their significant carbon dioxide emissions. One of the primary culprits is the reduction of iron oxide in iron ore, typically accomplished using carbon monoxide produced from coke in the blast furnace process. To combat these emissions, the steel industry is gradually shifting to a more environmentally friendly method known as direct reduction. This process utilizes hydrogen to reduce iron oxide, ultimately producing iron and water as byproducts.
GMH is embracing this greener approach to steel production, marking a significant stride towards achieving climate neutrality by 2039 and contributing to the Paris climate protection goals set in 2015.
To facilitate this transition, GMH has partnered with EWE, an energy service provider based in Oldenburg, to secure a local and sustainable source of hydrogen. EWE will provide the hydrogen needed for the direct reduction process, and this hydrogen will be produced using energy generated from regional green power plants.
EWE is currently in the process of constructing electrolysis plants in north-west Germany. These facilities will utilize green electricity to break down water into its constituent elements, producing hydrogen in an environmentally friendly manner.
GMH has been diligently working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions for a quarter of a century. The company has been a trailblazer in adopting electric arc furnaces, which melt and recycle nearly 100% of steel scrap, thereby reducing the need for iron ore. This transition alone has significantly decreased carbon emissions, as electric steelworks emit five times less CO2 compared to traditional blast furnace processes. By integrating green electricity into their operations and introducing biogenic coal, GMH has further reduced emissions by an additional 25%.
With the introduction of hydrogen into their production processes, GMH is poised to achieve its ambitious goal of climate neutrality by 2039. This innovative partnership between GMH and EWE signifies a paradigm shift in the steel industry, emphasizing sustainability, reduced emissions, and a commitment to greener practices.
The implications of this partnership extend beyond industry innovation. Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister, Stephan Weil, recognizes the significance of this project in accelerating the development of the hydrogen industry. He notes that Lower Saxony possesses unique advantages, such as abundant wind energy resources on land and at sea, strategic seaports for importing and distributing green hydrogen, and substantial underground formations for hydrogen storage.
The project is aligned with the “Clean Hydrogen Coastline” initiative, which encompasses the entire hydrogen value chain, from production and storage to transport and utilization in industry and heavy-duty transport. EWE plans to establish up to 400 megawatts of electrolysis capacity near the German North Sea coast by 2026, producing up to 40,000 tons of green hydrogen annually. This capacity can be expanded to a gigawatt scale in response to increasing demand. Newly developed hydrogen pipelines will transport the hydrogen from EWE’s plants to consumers, further reinforcing the green steel revolution.
The partnership between GMH and EWE exemplifies how collaboration between industry and energy providers can drive sustainable change. As the steel industry transforms, it not only secures jobs but also paves the way for a greener, carbon-neutral future.