Iron mining company LKAB as part of an initiative led by Swedish utility Vattenfall to decarbonise all steps of the steel value chain has produced the world’s first fossil-free iron ore pellets.

They are the initial result of full-scale tests that are still ongoing until next year to replace fossil oil with bio-oil in one of LKAB’ pellet plants in Malmberget, Sweden, and are seen reducing emissions for the operation by 40% during the test period, Vattenfall said.

Iron ore pellets are the raw material needed to produce steel.

Vattenfall, LKAB and steel manufacturer SSAB have teamed up in the HYBRIT initiative to develop the world’s first fossil-free, iron ore-based steel in Sweden. In the actual steel production, HYBRIT plans to use electricity and green hydrogen (made from renewable power), with the overarching goal to thereby reduce Sweden’s CO2 emissions by 10%.

“It’s very pleasing that our joint HYBRIT project is constantly taking important steps forwards, steps that will enable us to produce fossil-free steel, which has a natural place in a fossil-free society,” said Andreas Regnell, senior vice president for strategic development at Vattenfall and chairman of HYBRIT.

“We’re working in a focused way to make it possible to live a fossil-free life within a generation.”

Next to biofuels, hydrogen and plasma are also being tested to heat the iron ore pellet process. The results are promising, but require further development before a full-scale implementation is possible, the initiative said.

“Achieving positive results from different heating technologies represents an important milestone on the road to delivering the world’s very first fossil-free iron ore pellets and further on in the value chain for fossil-free steel,” said Markus Petäjäniemi, senior vice president for market and technology at LKAB.

“The HYBRIT initiative is a key to achieving LKAB’s goal of being a leading supplier of fossil-free iron ore, initially in a fossil-free value chain from mine to fossil-free steel, and in the long term totally carbon dioxide-free.”

Prices for fossil-free iron ore pellets today are still higher than for pellets made with fossil oil, a LKAB press official told Recharge, but added that this depended on market conditions and taxes.

As further steps in the HYBRIT initiative, construction of a pilot plant for fossil-free sponge iron (DRI/HBI) in Luleå, Northern Sweden, will be completed during the summer, and preparations are under way to build a temporary hydrogen storage facility to store fossil-free hydrogen in caverns.

“More steel will be needed as the world’s population increases and cities grow. But current steelmaking generates vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions,” said Martin Pei, chief technology officer at SSAB.

“It’s not sustainable. With the HYBRIT initiative, we’re revolutionizing an entire industry and introducing a new technology for fossil-free steel on an industrial scale. SSAB’s goal is to be able to offer fossil-free steel to the market as early as 2026 and to be totally fossil-free as a company by 2045.”