Ettwig: Welcome to a new edition of we.talk. Today we're broadcasting again from the studio in Essen, and I'd like to welcome two charming guests: Werner Ponikwar, CEO of thyssenkrupp nucera, and Arnd Köfler, CTO of thyssenkrupp Steel Europe. A warm welcome!
Köfler and Ponikwar: Thank you.
Ettwig: Today we want to talk about technologies in the green transformation. And of course a lot of that revolves around hydrogen. That's why I'd like to start the conversation with you, Mr. Ponikwar. You've been in charge at thyssenkrupp nucera since July 2022. Actually, there's no better time to start at thyssenkrupp, is there?
Ponikwar: Totally right. It's not the worst time, of course. In fact, it's a very, very good time. Why is it a very good time? Because something is finally happening, too.
We at thyssenkrupp nucera are in the middle of it instead of just being part of it. Why? Because we have already won our first major projects, on which we are already working very intensively. One project in Saudi Arabia is probably one of the biggest projects in the world. There, in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, a new city is being created, Neom, and as part of this new city there will also be a very, very large hydrogen electrolysis plant, which will be fed with renewable energies.
This is a great success, a good starting point and for me, a personal motivation to continue to accompany our clients, our customers, on their way to climate neutrality.
Ettwig: Mr. Köfler, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe is also working intensively on the green transformation. Hydrogen plays a major role there, too. Can you give us a little background on this?
Köfler: We are in the process of replacing blast furnace technology with a new, then CO2-free technology, the direct reduction plants and smelters. And that's the only way, not just for us, but for everyone, to produce truly green products in steelmaking.
Ettwig: You just mentioned the direct reduction plant. Let me ask you again, though. Can you give us a little outlook on the timeline? When will it be ready? And then in simple terms for the non-technical person, what can this thing do?
Köfler: Yes, I'll start with the technical details, the direct reduction plant is able to take over part of the blast furnace tasks, namely preparing the ores and not with carbon, but with hydrogen. This then results in a solid product that is transferred to our melters, which we will build, in order to liquefy it.
And the end product will then be the same as what comes out of a blast furnace today, namely pig iron and slag, only produced free of CO2, and can then continue to be used in our steel mills, which we do not have to change. So we can immediately continue to produce our two and a half thousand qualities that we produce today.
We have advanced the concept to this point, have submitted the relevant applications for funding all in good time, and are currently awaiting the decision from Berlin any day now that we will be able to start with preliminary measures, as it is formally called. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia has already made its corresponding commitment. And in parallel, we are ready to award a contract for a plant in the next few weeks. And then the first steps will start in January. Then the fields where these plants will be erected will be prepared. In our second port in Duisburg, in Walsum, we will then start the corresponding preparations. Then we will prepare the detailed engineering and obtain the official permits for operation, and then step by step we will build the plant and put it into operation in August 2026.
Ettwig: Soccer wisdom says that what matters is what happens on the field. So how do the two of you solve the mammoth task, green transformation with green hydrogen? Mr. Ponikwar.
Ponikwar: Now we have to get the horsepower on the road and start implementing it. On the one hand, of course, it helps that we already have customers in the industries who say, yes, where is the hydrogen, we need it. And on the other hand it helps that we at thyssenkrupp nucera can provide technologies that can already meet this requirement today.
Here we perhaps have an advantage over other market players because we can build on a very mature, excellent technology. This is chlor-alkali electrolysis, which we have been developing and perfecting for decades, and which is now available on an industrial scale. The step from chlor-alkali electrolysis to alkaline water electrolysis is essentially a relatively small one, because the components are very, very similar. The cell design is very similar, so we can already build large-scale plants that meet this requirement.
And in the future, of course, we are also looking in the direction of steel and are looking forward to the large volumes there as well. But Mr. Köhler can certainly tell us more about that.
Ettwig: What is the situation with steel? How do you solve the mammoth task of hydrogen?
Köfler: Yes, it is indeed a mammoth task. And I think I'll start by describing a little bit what this size actually means. To say mammoth: You know that in Duisburg we operate the largest steel mill in Europe, with an area of over ten square kilometers, about five times the size of Monaco, and there are four large blast furnaces there, and we have to replace these four step by step.
Ettwig: That is still a few days away, and I know that hydrogen is not the only topic with which you are firing up the green transformation in Duisburg. What other technologies do you have in your portfolio?
Köfler: Yes, of course we have already started, for several years now, to look at how we can manufacture green products or products with reduced CO2 emissions with the aggregates that we now have to continue operating for a while. For example, we were the first in the world to already use hydrogen in 2019, at a blast furnace in Duisburg.
But we are still looking for and have found replacement technologies for the blast furnaces, for example using green pre-material, if I may call it that, directly in the blast furnaces, increasing the recycling rate by using special scrap grades in the blast furnaces. We have succeeded in doing this and last year we launched our first green or CO2-reduced product on the market, bluemint®, which I believe is now well known and established. Customers have already ordered corresponding volumes.
Ettwig: Mr. Ponikwar, we have now looked a little more closely at Germany. Your field of play is more international. What can thyssenkrupp nucera contribute to fueling the green transformation internationally?
Ponikwar: Absolutely right. The green transformation is more or less a global movement. It would make little sense if only individual countries were to pursue it, since the aim is to prevent or minimize climate change to some extent.
We have to create plants that are highly available, that are large, and that can produce correspondingly large quantities of hydrogen at low cost. In this respect, we see ourselves in a very good competitive position. In addition, and this is perhaps another competitive advantage that we have here, we have already established sites worldwide through our historic chlorine- alkali electrolysis business. It's very advantageous for us, of course, because it allows us to grow faster. And so we are now certainly focusing at the beginning on key regions, as we call them, which have the greatest attractiveness for us.
Ettwig: For the ramp-up of the hydrogen industry, especially in Germany, a lot of green electricity is needed. That is considered very expensive in this country. Meaning, all that to come from solar plants and wind power. What does that mean for your business model?
Ponikwar: In Germany, it's certainly the case that energy prices will not be comparable, even in the long term, to what they are in other countries, where they have completely different conditions. We must not forget that: We need either a lot of wind or and ideally a lot of sun. And the third big criterion is space. Such plants simply need a lot, a lot of space. And here in Germany, we are certainly limited to some extent.
And that's why energy prices here in Germany will certainly not be where we see them in other regions, in some cases even today. What does that mean for Germany? We will probably not be able to meet our hydrogen requirements entirely from our own resources. That doesn't mean there won't be a green hydrogen industry in Germany.
There has to be one, because we will increasingly develop and build up renewable sources of electricity in spite of everything. And, of course, they always have, let's say, the characteristic or the disadvantage that they are much more volatile.
To compensate for this, we need storage systems. You can also store very, very large amounts of energy in hydrogen as an energy carrier. So for that reason alone, we will also see the development of a green infrastructure in Germany. And, of course, we have customers in Germany that are obviously very, very large and can therefore also be supplied with hydrogen. Beyond that, some of the hydrogen will have to come from abroad. We will have to import in Germany.
Ettwig: Let's tie off the conversation with a looking-ahead question. thyssenkrupp is in the middle of the green transformation, on the way to the green transformation. What makes you both optimistic? That this will also work well and be successful?
Ponikwar: Well, on the one hand I think we can be optimistic because the world has understood that we need this. There is great political will for transformation, and there is great social pressure to pursue this transformation. That is, of course, a major driver for actually implementing the transformation, and we can already see that today. At thyssenkrupp, we have great contributions to make along the entire value chain.
We have great technologies in the portfolio, we have great components in the portfolio, and we even have really big buyers in the portfolio. And I believe that we naturally also have a major say in the ramp-up of this green transformation. I believe we are very well positioned and together we can really make a significant contribution to ensuring that our planet remains worth living on in the future, including for the generations that will come after us.
Ettwig: Mr. Köfler, why will thyssenkrupp and thyssenkrupp Steel be successful in the green transformation?
Köfler: Yes, what you just said is of course absolutely right. We are looked upon with envy everywhere we present as thyssenkrupp. And we not only have the customer, we as steel as hydrogen customer, we have the producers of hydrogen in our portfolio, in our group and we have the infrastructure with the ammonia production, the colleagues from Uhde. That is unique. We are really envied in this respect. That's why I'm firmly convinced that we can make our contribution.
Ettwig: Thank you very much for your optimistic closing words. I take with me that we have two business models, we have a common path to the green transformation, we cover the demand side together, the supply side and of course the infrastructure. Hydrogen is a big topic. Both of you are optimistic. That makes us happy. In this respect, many thanks to both of you. Many thanks also to the audience. This was we.talk. We will be back with exciting guests and new topics. Goodbye from Essen. Stay healthy.