March 4, 2024

The workers will clean the furnace bay in the Salzgitter AG steelworks in Salzgitter on March 2, 2020.

MORRIS MAC MATZEN | AFP | Getty Images

A large plant for green hydrogen in Germany has started operations. Those behind the project hope this will help decarbonize the energy-intensive steel industry in the years to come.

The German steel giant Salzgitter, the E.ON subsidiary Avacon and Linde, a company specializing in mechanical engineering and industrial gases, are involved in the “WindH2” project.

Hydrogen can be produced in a number of ways. One method involves the use of electrolysis, where an electrical current splits water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used comes from a renewable source such as wind or sun, it is called “green” or “renewable” hydrogen.

The development in Germany focuses on seven new wind turbines from Avacon and two electrolysers with 1.25 megawatts (MW), which were installed by Salzgitter Flachstahl, which is part of the larger Salzgitter Group. The facilities were presented to the public this week.

Vestas’ turbines have a hub height of 169 meters and a total output of 30 MW. All are on the premises of the Salzgitter Group, three on the premises of a steelworks in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony, northwest Germany.

The hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources is used in processes related to the smelting of iron ore. The total cost of the project is around 50 million euros. The construction of the electrolysers is subsidized by the state KfW.

“Green gases have what it takes to become a staple food for the transition to alternative energies and to make a significant contribution to the decarbonization of industry, mobility and heating,” said Johannes Teyssen, CEO of E.ON, in a statement published on Thursday .

“The jointly implemented project symbolizes a milestone on the way to practically CO2-free production and shows that fossil fuels can be replaced by intelligent cross-sectoral links,” he added.

According to the International Energy Agency, the iron and steel sector is responsible for 2.6 gigatons of direct carbon dioxide emissions per year, a figure that was higher than direct emissions from sectors like cement and chemicals in 2019.

The steel sector is “the largest industrial consumer of coal, which covers around 75% of its energy needs”.

The project in Germany does not only focus on the role that green hydrogen could play in steel production.

H2 Green Steel, a Swedish company backed by investors such as Spotify founder Daniel Ek, plans to build a steel production facility in the north of the country powered by what is known as the “largest green hydrogen plant in the world”.

In an announcement last month, the company said steel production would begin in 2024 and be located in the Norrbotten region of Sweden.

Other energy-intensive industries are also exploring the potential of green hydrogen. For example, a subsidiary of the multinational building materials company HeidelbergCement worked with researchers from Swansea University to install and operate a demonstration unit for green hydrogen at a location in the UK