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Last week voestalpine AG announced the approval for building the world’s largest industrial hydrogen pilot plant in Linz. The H2FUTURE project is a very interesting collaboration of Siemens, VERBUND, the Austrian Power Grid (APG) and further scientific partners K1-MET (Metallurgical Competence Center) and ECN (Energy research Centre of the Netherlands), and  is funded as part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program.

A technological flagship to transform the steel industry – and save the climate

At H2FUTURE’s core is the world’s largest PEM (proton exchange membrane) electrolyser. For voestalpine the PEM creates hydrogen by electrically splitting up water into hybrogen and oxygen.

“By replacing today’s blast furnace process that uses coal and coke with a process based on hydrogen gas, the aim is to develop a process that emits water rather than carbon dioxide.”

Swedish steelmaker SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall announced a joint venture in June 2017 for fossil-free steel called “HYBRIT”.

Their project is divided into three phases: a preliminary study up to the end of 2017, followed by research and pilot plant trials up to 2024. Finally, up to 2035 the plan is to perform trials in a full-scale demonstration facility.

Both Austria and Sweden have access to climate-smart and renewable electrical power from hydropower plants.

Look beyond steel – why voestalpine and SSAB team up with utility companies APG or Vattenfall

Industry boundaries blur, and this is another excellent example. A PEM plant can convert electricity into hydrogen at scale, and hydrogen is an excellent buffer & storage for electricity.

In the voest announcement for H2FUTURE they explicitly mention the intention to trial its use in electricity balancing market. With the fluctuation of renewal power generation, storing and balancing energy supply & demand is a key building block.

voestalpine and SSAB both supply steel into the car industry. I seriously wonder whether H2FUTURE and HYBRIT are bridgeheads into a hydrogen-powered infrastructure & mobility. In Tesla’s forum you can find heated discussions about the energy density advantage (factor 200) of hydrogen over lithium-based batteries.

This does not solve the hydrogen re-fueling infrastructure problem. But it is another step forward – for the steel industry, energy utilities, and maybe as well for the mobility industry.

Not sure I will buy a Toyota Mirai as my next company car, but maybe we’ll be able to buy something like the Audi A7 sportback h-tron.


Elon Musk considers using hydrogen as terrible and silly, not making sense.

Well, maybe he’s not right this time. Or he is, and we will see at least carbon-free steelplants – good news for the climate in any case.

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