Deep decarbonisation in sectors such as steel, aviation and ammonia is easier said than done. These and other heavy industries like aluminum, cement and glass production are known as being particularly “hard-to-abate”; due to either a lack of technology to date or prohibitive costs – or both.

But while these challenges cannot be solved overnight, such industries should not sit back and wait for viable clean hydrogen. There are options to get the decarbonisation journey started today.

Getting industrial customers hydrogen-ready

“The viability of green hydrogen is largely dependent on having a continuous and viable supply of green power. That’s what will determine the pace of uptake,” explains Joachim von Scheele, Director Metals & Glass at Linde.

But in many areas there are near-term decarbonising steps that can be taken now to prepare for a switch to hydrogen in the future. Not least when it comes to energy efficiency.

“Maximising the energy efficiency of the existing processes is where we always start with our customers,” explains von Scheele. The more energy efficient a production process, the less fuel is required. That brings an immediate benefit of reduced CO2 emissions from the current fuel, but also the future benefit of reduced spend on hydrogen – which will be an expensive fuel.

“We can then look to carbon capture storage and utilisation (CCUS) technologies – in conjunction with Oxyfuel – as a viable alternative for removing CO2 from the flue gases released by industrial processes,” says von Scheele.

When it makes sense customers might switch to hydrogen one process at a time. At that point, Linde can draw on its production expertise and provide a small-scale electrolyser for on-site production which could be scaled as required by essentially stacking electrolyser.

Linde’s expertise goes well beyond provision of equipment. Downstream uses of oxygen from the electrolysis could be explored as well as how the heat from off-gases could be harnessed for further efficiency gains at the electrolyser.

“It’s about growing over time and adapting to customers’ needs,” says von Scheele.

Steelmaking: Where hope hangs on hydrogen

“Linde has been in the hydrogen business for over one hundred years now,” explains David Burns, VP Linde Clean Hydrogen, “Our expertise and experience throughout the value chain is unrivalled and we can draw on it to help accelerate the energy transition. We’re hydrogen-ready now!”

Hydrogen know-how is one thing; but what also sets Linde apart is its industry-specific knowledge based on years of “traditional” business with industrial players – as David Burns explains: “For Linde, steel is already a very important business. We’re very familiar with it and we’re well connected with the major players. So as customers look to decarbonise, we’re in a good position to step in and support.” And decarbonise they must.

When steel is produced using the major blast furnace-based route, it emits about two tons of CO2 for every ton of steel, making it one of the worst offenders when it comes to emissions: roughly 8% of global annual emissions. For an industry in which fossil fuels are baked into the production processes, all hope for decarbonisation hangs on hydrogen.

At the heart of hydrogen mobility

Electrolyser Leuna at Linde's site in Germany. Photo: Linde

“Truly green steel will rely on green hydrogen – which can be used as a source of heat and power as well as a reducing agent,” explains von Scheele. “And we’ve proved that it works,” he adds, referring to the world’s first full-scale trial conducted with the steelmaker Ovako in March 2020 where steel was heated using green hydrogen together with Flameless Oxyfuel before rolling in a full production environment.

Results showed that hydrogen could replace propane as burner fuel with no loss of performance. So convinced was Ovako that the company plans to operate permanently with hydrogen in several of its furnaces in the near future.

“The problem when it comes to scaling this is simply cost,” explains von Scheele, “It’s very, very expensive.”

While steelmakers might therefore be reluctant to invest in full decarbonisation until the price of hydrogen declines, a range of proven technologies from Linde can already reduce emissions – again, through improved efficiency.

“When applied to steel, our Hot Oxygen Technology and Flameless Oxyfuel solutions like OXYGON and REBOX could cut carbon emissions from some processes by up to 60%,” von Scheele explains. Linde has also demonstrated that hydrogen is the ideal fuel for Linde’s CoJet systems in electric arc furnaces.

So far, when it comes to hydrogen, the good news is that viable decarbonisation solutions exist. It works. And while these sectors may be hard to abate, at least it’s easy to see where the solution lies.

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