SSAB Introduces “World’s First” Emission-Free Steel Powder for 3D Printing

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Swedish steel giant SSAB (Nasdaq Stockholm: SSAB A) has unveiled what it is calling the “world’s first” emission-free steel powder for commercial use, developed from recycled SSAB Zero steel. Engineered specifically for additive manufacturing (AM), the material represents a sea change taking place in the metal powders market for 3D printing.

AM is being primed as a technology for sustainable manufacturing. The only problem is that a number of its inputs are still energy- or resource-intensive, depending on the exact 3D printing process and the feedstock being used. In the case of steel, the production of the powder represents about seven percent of global CO2 emissions. SSAB has entered onto the scene to introduce a steel that has “virtually zero” CO2 emissions in its manufacturing process.

SSAB Fossil-free steel is made from scrap metal using a technique called HYBRIT, developed with state-owned Swedish mining company LKAB and energy company Vattenfall. The technology relies on hydrogen gas, made with fossil-free energy, rather than coal, to remove the oxygen from the iron ore to create sponge iron. In turn, the CO2 emissions are eliminated, resulting in water as a byproduct instead.

SSAB began its exploration into producing metal powders for AM in 2020, which led to the 2023 launch of its first conventional steel for 3D printing to the market, dubbed SSAB AM Engineering. Now, by pulverizing the aforementioned emission-free steel with fossil-free energy sources, the company is able to introduce SSAB AM Tough Zero. SSAB AM Tough Zero is being produced in limited quantities, while SSAB Fossil-free steel is available only for pilot deliveries.

The “world’s first” fossil-free steel component suitable for a forest machine. Image courtesy of HT Laser.

“This is a game-changer in the world of 3D-printed steel. SSAB has already proven it’s possible to produce steel without carbon dioxide emissions. Now we’re merging emission-free steel with powder technology to enable sustainable 3D-printed design with unlimited imagination,” says Johnny Sjöström, EVP and Head of SSAB Special Steels.

The company has already begun offering the powder to select customers. HT Laser 3D printed “the first” fossil-free steel component suitable for a forest machine. Mining company Epiroc used the conventional steel powder to create a hydraulic block for a rock drill, but is considering the use of fossil-free powder. In 2022, Triwa unveiled a watch that it called the world’s “first” consumer product made with fossil-free steel.

“3D-printing high-strength steel components will help reduce the amount of raw material used, and cut the weight and increase functionality of the final product. This is especially important for industries, such as automotives or heavy machinery, that are trying to save weight, increase performance, and reduce their CO2 footprint,” says Jesper Vang, Head of SSAB Powder Technology.

The introduction of zero emission steel powder for AM is part of a larger trend in which specialty metals producers—namely IperionX, 6K, and Continuum Powders—have begun introducing “sustainable” materials for 3D printing. This typically means reducing the energy input for making the powder and relying on recycled metal for feedstocks.

Now, SSAB can be added to the cohort, bringing with it the backing of a $9 billion steel company owned by the governments of Sweden, via LKAB (which supplies 80 precent of Europe’s iron ore) and Finland. Naturally, that positions the company well in Europe, but given the fact that it is a global corporation, and the U.S. is the largest AM market, it wouldn’t be surprising for SSAB Americas to also target North America, where it is the largest heavy plate producer.

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