A yellow dump truck has made history as the world’s first commercially-produced vehicle made from fossil-free steel, after manufacturer Volvo handed over the articulated hauler to its customer NCC at a special event in Stockholm this afternoon.
The A30G dump truck has been built using steel produced at Sweden’s HYBRIT project, where pioneering trials have been taking place over the past couple of years using renewable electricity and hydrogen as zero carbon alternatives to fossil fuels in steelmaking.
The HYBRIT plant in Lulea, northern Sweden, is a collaboration between steelmaker SSAB, energy giant Vattenfall, and iron ore miner LKAB which has captured growing interest over the past year, with firms such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo striking initial deals for its zero -carbon steel.
The project is significant, as steel – a crucial material in electric vehicles, wind turbines and rafts of other equipment and infrastructure – remains largely reliant on fossil fuels during the manufacturing process, and the sector accounts for roughly eight per cent of global CO2 emissions.
However, the first ever batch of fossil-free steel produced at the HYBRIT plant was delivered to Volvo last year, after which the firm unveiled its first vehicle design using the material as part of the testing phase, with a view to gradually ramping up its vehicle manufacturing using green steel.
And today, Volvo’s Construction Equipment arm (Volvo CE) became the first firm in the world to deliver a commercially-completed construction machine built using the HYBRIT fossil free steel to a customer, after the A30G was handed over to construction firm NCC.
While full commercial introduction to market of the articulated haulier is expected to be gradual and with selected customers, according to Volvo, it hailed today’s handover as an important milestone in the development of zero carbon steel, and its own ambitions to meet its future climate goals .
Volvo CE’s president Melker Jernberg said the milestone demonstrated the need for companies to collaborate right across the value chain in order to succeed in decarbonising the construction industry.
“Thanks to our strong partnerships with other driven and forward-thinking companies, we are now able to lead the change towards fossil-free construction and be the first to deliver a machine built using fossil-free steel to a customer,” he said. “Turning commitments into actions is key to building the world we want to live in.”
The A30G – produced at Volvo CE’s Braås facility in Sweden using its existing manufacturing process, but with fossil-free steel from SSAB – was unveiled to coincide with the UN Stockholm+10 environmental summit in the country’s capital today.
Various leading climate figures and politicians were in attendance as the dump truck was handed over, including US Climate Envoy John Kerry and Sweden’s climate minister Annika Strandhäll.
The success of the HYBRIT project has prompted SSAB to raise its ambitions for fossil-free steel, earlier this year unveiling a £3.56bn plan to “largely eliminate” CO2 emissions right across its manufacturing sites before the end of the decade, pulling forward its previous plan by 15 years.
Such commitments underscore the rapid pace of change within the carbon-intensive steel sector, which has for years been widely regarded as a major hurdle on the path to net zero emissions. However, growing demand for low carbon products, increasing interest and investment in green hydrogen production, and advances in technological development have fueled confidence across the industry that low carbon steel can be manufactured at scale and at competitive prices.
Some analysts have warned that new low carbon steelmaking technologies will struggle to compete on cost with conventional steel in the short to medium term. However, the combination of soaring carbon prices – which have hit record highs in the EU’s emissions trading scheme in recent months – and growing green confidence green hydrogen costs can fall rapidly as the nascent industry scales has fueled hopes steel can become cost competitive in the coming years.
But while the HYBRIT project and a handful of other green steel initiatives have been making progress, they remain the exception rather than the rule worldwide, and there remain strong concerns among climate experts about the steel sector’s ability to reach net zero by 2050 given its current sluggish progress.
Just today, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee warned that the UK steel sector risks being left uncompetitive as the world turns towards greener and cheaper alternatives, and claimed that government plans to decarbonise the domestic steelmaking lack ambition.
Rebecca Dell, director of the industry program for the ClimateWorks Foundation, said described the delivery of the world’s first fossil-free steel dump truck today as “a great start”, but warned that the pace of change across the steel sector needed to accelerate far faster still.
“Steel is the highest greenhouse gas emitting industry in the world after electricity generation,” she said. “To meet our climate goals, we must go from one clean steel vehicle to millions by the end of this decade. Today’s announcement is just a start, but it shows what is possible with the combined efforts or governments, businesses, engineers, and climate advocates.”
She added: “We have the technology, but we need dozens of new decarbonisation projects every year – decisions in months not years will define the future. The time to act is now.”