As part of the European STEPWISE project, the Energy research centre of the Netherlands (ECN) is demonstrating for the first time its Sorption-Enhanced Water-Gas Shift (SEWGS) technology: a CO2 capture technology that makes it possible to substantially reduce carbon emissions from the iron and steel industry. This technology has been under development at ECN since 2004, and is currently running at the Swerea MEFOS test facility in northern Sweden. Iron and steel play an essential role in modern-day society but they are also responsible for about 6% of total CO2 emissions. In the short run, this kind of capture technology will play a pivotal role in reducing CO2 emissions from this carbon-intensive industry sector. The SEWGS technology can also ensure that the European iron and steel industry will continue to emit significantly less CO2 in the future, while remaining cost-competitive.

2017 10 04 091847"Iron and steel manufacturing is responsible for a substantial share of total global CO2 emissions. Innovative solutions such as SEWGS are our only way to significantly reduce these emissions," says Aart van der Pal (COO ECN). “That’s why we’re proud that we were able to scale up this technology from lab to pilot and demo scale. SEWGS represents a potential game-changer on our way to the future."

Iron and steel manufacturing is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, especially coke, and no alternative is currently available. As a transition to sustainably produced energy is not feasible for the steel sector in the short term, this industry sector needs to capture and store CO2. EU emissions are required to drop by about 90% by 2050. Steel production releases large quantities of CO2, which can often only be extracted from the gasses expelled by blast furnaces at great cost and using a lot of energy. ECN’s Sorption Enhanced Water Gas Shift (SEWGS) technology makes it possible to capture CO2 with 50% less energy and 25% lower costs.

The construction of the STEPWISE facility began in April 2016. The factory consists of two new buildings with compressors and reactors. Also, a new 640 metre-long gas pipeline has been built, leading from the furnace of project partner SSAB, Scandinavia’s largest steel producer, to partner Swerea MEFOS, responsible for operating the facility. The reactor vessels are filled with a clay-like material that captures the CO2. During the pilot phase, the installation will capture 14 tons of CO2 per day. "The objective of the pilot is to demonstrate the significantly increased energy efficiency of our technology over competing techniques. If you apply this on a global scale, you can save gigatons of CO2 emissions. That’s equal to almost half the emissions of all coal plants and on a worldwide total of 35 billion tons, this means a substantial reduction", says ECN researcher Paul Cobden, who has been involved in developing the SEWGS technology from the start.

At the opening ceremony, the project partners were represented by the directors of the partners ECN and Swerea MEFOS, and the Site Manager of SSAB Luleå. Niklas Nordström, representing the Municipal Council of Luleå, cut the ribbon to celebrate this milestone with the 50 invited guests. "I’m so proud that we are conducting research in Luleå that will really help the European industry reduce its CO2 impact. This facility contributes to speeding up the transformation of the steel industry into an efficient and climate-friendly industry."

The project has received funding from the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. STEPWISE is coordinated by ECN (NL). Other partners include Universitatea Babeş-Bolyai, Johnson Matthey PLC., SSAB, Swerea MEFOS, Politecnico di Milano, Kisuma Chemicals BV, Amec Foster Wheeler Italiana Srl and Tata Steel Consulting.

In the next two years a number of campaigns will be launched to demonstrate the technology’s applicability in an industrial context. Site visits can be organised for interested industrial parties, enabling them to explore the potential of the technology and facilities to create value in their own processes. The time has come to consider our next steps in the transition to commercialising this technology.

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