Hydrogen iron & steel making forum in Korea: An opportunity to build the future

Stefano Maggiolino, CEO of Tenova HYL, and Fernando Caracoche, Director of Engineering Department in Ternium, shared their conference experience and highlighted the new scenario that opens for Group companies.

The first international Hydrogen Iron & Steel Making Forum was held on October 6-8 in Seoul, South Korea. Hosted by major South Korean steelmaking company POSCO and supported by Worldsteel TECO, the event aimed to promote the discussion and development of hydrogen iron and steelmaking technologies and strengthen the policies that reduce greenhouse gases.

Stefano Maggiolino, CEO of Tenova HYL, and Fernando Caracoche, Director of Engineering Department in Ternium, shared their views about this high-level conference and offered their thoughts regarding the role of hydrogen in reducing CO2 emissions worldwide.

Maggiolino stated that several representatives recognized that the steel industry is responsible for a large proportion of CO2 emissions during the forum: "We know that around 70% of the average world production is still carried out through the traditional carbon-based reduction cycle that entails a very high CO2 emission. However, we also have the solution, which is a direct reduction with hydrogen".

He stressed that the effectiveness of this technology has already been proven through experiments and investigations conducted throughout the years.

"The question is: what are we missing, what do we need to be able to use it? Well, we don't have hydrogen available at competitive prices, and this is linked to the electrification process. Green Hydrogen is produced through an electrolysis process that requires electrical energy and, therefore, we must go further back in the process and obtain electrical energy from renewable sources. At this point, we can see that it's a political decision," he explained.

Maggiolino revealed that "there are countries in which we don't see much progress and regions such as Europe, where people and governments are already pushing very hard in the direction of decarbonization and use of hydrogen. I believe that China will surprise us with the speed with which it will move forward."

He highlighted the many opportunities that this scenario presents and the need to take advantage of them: "Currently, we are recognized as a leader in this energy transition, and we definitely have a huge workload. Not all these initiatives will turn into projects and our market share will depend on our efforts, capabilities, and will."

On the other hand, Maggiolino mentioned the advantages that Tenova has over its competitors. "We have the ideal scheme, and our technology allows us to move flexibly from working 100% with natural gas to 100% with hydrogen. On the contrary, our main competitors have to change their plants a lot. Furthermore, our experience is markedly superior. Therefore, we must leverage our strengths and remedy our weaknesses. We have excellent opportunities ahead of us," he concluded.

New opportunities for Latin America

Fernando Caracoche highlighted the commitment and concern of the entire steel industry regarding the issue of decarbonization. He also stressed the high level and quality of the speakers at the Hydrogen Iron & Steel Making Forum.

"From a technical point of view, it strikes me that the steel industry has been, for some months now, communicating and reinforcing its commitment to using the technology it already has on its way to decarbonization. This congress showed us that the next step already exists because it implies searching for the best way combine the existing technologies with the new developments that continue to appear," he explained.

Caracoche also highlighted the opportunities that are opening in the new scenario. "There are many challenges for our region, but I would like to emphasize that we also have many opportunities. The biggest challenge is clearly to have green hydrogen in massive quantities. A graph made by Bloomberg a few years ago shows that there are Latin American countries that will have cheap or at least competitive hydrogen by 2030," he said.

He explained that Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States -some of the countries where Ternium operates- offer great opportunities in this field: "Right now, we can see renewable energy development projects on the horizon, and competitively speaking, these countries are up-and-coming. Furthermore, I believe that the potential we have in all the companies of the Techint Group will help us build a strong position. For that reason, we must analyze this scenario from the perspective of its opportunities rather than the challenges."

Caracoche added that the cost of energy and renewable energy would be less competitive in Europe than in Latin America. "The United States has some advantages, but I would like to insist that in Latin America, we have excellent resources. On the other hand, we must remember that we must make significant investments and be ready to face challenges that are going to be stronger in some countries," he clarified.

In that sense, he added that "the other issue is infrastructure: how these resources are connected to the demand presented by the steel plants. In this sense, Latin America has some difficulties that Europe doesn't. Europe has already developed some governmental mechanisms to encourage these technologies, so in that sense, they are one step ahead of us."

The manager thinks that sooner or later, the demand will promote the development, regardless of political factors. "Political decisions are often short-term compared to the goal we set for ourselves at a global level, which is carbon neutrality by 2050. For example, there are political decisions that are valid for five years. However, if the natural resource exists, sooner or later, the investments will arrive. Sometimes, political decisions have a negative impact, but if there is a demand and there is a resource, development ends up unlocking," he stated.

When analyzing the following steps, Caracoche explained that the path is in the direction of renewable energies. In this sense, he stressed that "we need to have access to minerals that are suitable for these technologies. In parallel, we must improve the efficiency of our blast furnaces in the next 20 years, at least, and perhaps think about intermediary technologies. Our goal is to speed up the process and do everything possible within our reach."

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