22/06/2021 – Sustainability / Steel / Carbon Dioxide / Emissions / Decarbonising

FORGING AHEAD – Decarbonising steel and other hard-to-abate industries
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Snam, RINA and the GIVA Group have teamed up for the world’s first test with a 30-per-cent natural gas/hydrogen blend in steel forging, as the firms strive to solve the green steel conundrum.


AS one of the most important engineering and construction materials, steel is a core pillar of the world today, touching myriad aspects of life. However, the steel industry is among the three biggest producers of carbon dioxide. Every ton of steel produced in 2018 emitted on average 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide, equating to about eight per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Consequently, steel players across the globe – and particularly in Europe, face a decarbonisation challenge.


Switching to zero-carbon hydrogen


The key to solving this sustainability conundrum could be hydrogen-based (H2) steel production. In a step towards this switch to zero-carbon hydrogen, the world’s first test of a 30-per-cent natural gas/ hydrogen blend in the forging processes used in industrial steelmaking was tested at the manufacturing site of Forgiatura A. Vienna– a GIVA Group company – in the Milan area.


The trial involved the use of the hydrogen/gas mix to heat the furnaces of the Forgiatura A. Vienna plant, and was successfully carried out onsite after a year-long series of studies and laboratory tests. The companies involved in the initiative were: Snam, one of the world’s leading energy infrastructure companies and developer and promoter of the project; RINA, a multinational inspection, certification and engineering consultancy, which handled the engineering analyses and laboratory phase; and GIVA Group, a global leader in steelmaking, which made Forgiatura Vienna available for the field test. The blend of methane and hydrogen was supplied by Sapio, an Italian company specialising in the production and marketing of industrial and medical gases.


Decarbonising energy-intensive industries


“In the medium- to long-term, hydrogen is in a position to become the solution for decarbonising steelmaking as well as all hard-to-abate industrial sectors that have a fundamental role in our economy,” remarked Marco Alverà CEO of Snam, one of the world’s leading energy infrastructure companies and one of Italy’s largest listed companies by market capitalisation. “This trial is a preparatory step to the gradual introduction of zero-emission hydrogen, initially blended with natural gas and then in pure form, in certain steelmaking production processes. Snam intends to make its infrastructure, research and expertise available to contribute to the creation of a national hydrogen supply chain, and to the achievement of domestic and European climate targets”.


Ugo Salerno, Chairman and CEO of Rina, added that the test was “concrete proof” that Italy’s hydrogen production chain can significantly contribute to “decarbonising complex and energy-intensive industries” such as steelmaking. With more than 3,900 employees and 200 offices in 70 countries, Rina contributes to the development of new regulatory standards and provides a wide array of services in the Energy, Marine, Certification, Real Estate and Infrastructure, Mobility and Industry sectors. “At Rina, we are proud to play an active role in the on-going energy transition, more specifically in such events where we can share our energy and industrial know-how,” he said.


GIVA Group’s Jacopo Longhi Vienna remarked that hydrogen could be “a great ally” to his business – a world leader in the production of big dimension forgings (up to 300 tons), for end markets such as power generation, nuclear, and oil & gas. The firm boasts 15 modern plants across Italy, employing more than 1,200 personnel. “On one side, increasingly stringent measures on CO2 emissions, coupled with our willingness to reduce the environmental impact from our production processes, move us towards finding a solution. On the other, the use of hydrogen could create a driving market for valves and actuators produced by the Group’s subsidiaries,” he informed. “This project only marks the beginning of a path we will be involved in for years to come”.


Green gains


The use of the hydrogen and natural gas blend did not require any plant modifications, nor did it have any impact on the equipment used (industrial burners) or on the characteristics of the final heat-treated product.


Given such promising results, the project’s potential in terms of environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness is significant. It is estimated that the permanent use of a 30-per-cent green hydrogen blend, fuelled by renewables, on the total gas consumed by the three GIVA Group steel forging plants for its industrial processes would lead to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions – in the order of 15,000 tonnes per year, the equivalent to removing 7,500 cars from the world’s roads. It would consequently result into CO2 emissions savings amounting to approximately e800,000 per annum (calculated on the current purchase of certificates), while ensuring the value and integrity of the steel forging manufacturing process and its long-term environmental sustainability.


Of course, steel is also used to fabricate the pipelines that play a fundamental role as conduits through which to transport hydrogen to the end customers.


The use of hydrogen in hard-to-abate industrial applications such as steelmaking will play a key role in achieving domestic and EU climate neutrality targets by 2050. Looking ahead, green hydrogen is therefore the ideal solution for CO2-free steelmaking and processing.


Snam said it was “committed to having its infrastructure hydrogen-ready for transporting increasing amounts of hydrogen and to promoting its use in high-potential industrial sectors, including the iron and steel industry”.


A top priority for steel players


Indeed, given a combination of changing consumer needs, further tightening of regulations, and growing investor and public interest in sustainability, recent studies estimate that approximately 14 per cent of steel companies’ potential value is at risk in the years ahead if they are unable to decrease their environmental impact. Consequently, decarbonisation should be a top priority for players in the steel industry, in order to remain economically competitive and retain a license to operate.

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