Hydrogen Hope in the Hard-to-Abate Industries

How Linde's hydrogen expertise and hydrogen-ready solutions help steelmaking and other heavy industry customers along their decarbonization journey.

Ground up perspective of three tall white hydrogen storage tanks against a blue sky.

In its recent report discussing hydrogen's role on the pathway to Net Zero by 2050, the Hydrogen Council states that "clean hydrogen (both renewable and low carbon) offers the only long-term, scalable, and cost-effective option for deep decarbonization in sectors such as steel, maritime, aviation, and ammonia."

Deep decarbonization however in such sectors 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. With the help of Linde, the decarbonization journey for customers in these sectors can start today.

A Pioneering Past and Future in 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!”

Indeed, look into any of the aforementioned “difficult” sectors and you’ll find Linde at the center of the clean-up efforts. “Clean hydrogen is the key ingredient when it comes to green steel, sustainable aviation fuel, alternative drop-in fuels for shipping and of course, green ammonia - which itself can be used as a zero-carbon fuel or as an energy vector for clean power,” says Burns. “As a global leader, we can offer our expertise in production, distribution and storage when exploring these opportunities,” he adds. Given that hydrogen has the potential to avoid 80 gigatons (GT) of cumulative CO2 emissions from now through 2050, fuel switching - swapping out high carbon containing fuels for low carbon or green hydrogen in industrial processes - is clearly the end goal. But it’s not necessarily the starting point. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “green means go”.

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 decarbonizing steps that can be taken today to prepare for a switch to hydrogen in the future. Not least when it comes to energy efficiency. “Maximizing 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 utilization (CCUS) technologies - in conjunction with Oxyfuel - as a viable alternative for removing CO2 from the flue gases released by industrial processes,” says von Scheele.

An on-site electrolyzer at Leuna power plant showing pipe network and six white container units.

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 electrolyzer for on-site production which could be scaled as required by essentially stacking electrolyzers. 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 electrolyzer. “It’s about growing over time and adapting to customers’ needs,” says von Scheele.

Steelmaking: Where Hope Hangs on Hydrogen

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 decarbonize, we’re in a good position to step in and support.” And decarbonize 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 decarbonization hangs on hydrogen.

At the Heart of Hydrogen Mobility

“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.

Three workers in personal protective equipment talking in front of a steel burner at OVAKO factory, Sweden.

“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 decarbonization 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 decarbonization 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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