What is Fossil Free Steel (and why does it matter)?

In May 2023, we launched a new watch that, on the surface, simply looks like a beautiful timepiece – well designed, has a nice finish, and is an immediate classic.  This item is so much more than what meets the eye.  It is the first consumer product to be made from Fossil Free Steel.  A collaboration between Swedish Steel producer SSAB and TRIWA, this item is something we hold with pride because it embodies who we are at TRIWA – pushing innovation forward, crossing boundaries, and doing it in a way that shows positive progress is happening everywhere around us.

While we are excited about Fossil Free Steel, we realize that unless you are passionate about steel production or work in the industry, it might be kind of confusing to know about steel production.   So, look no further than right here to learn about how Fossil Free Steel is different from conventional steel (spoiler: it’s in how it’s produced).

How is Traditional Steel Made?

Since the industrial revolution,steelmakinghas evolved into various methods – the most common, making up about 70% of steel production, is called Basic Oxygen Steelmaking, which replaced the less efficient Bessemer Method thru the 1950s.

The 2nd most-used method of steel production is Electric arc Steelmaking, which makes up about 25% of steel production.  So, approximately 95% of the steel production in the world is covered by Basic Oxygen and Electric arc Steelmaking, individually.  Basic Oxygen Steelmaking primarily utilizes raw materials, not scrap, whereas Electric arc Steelmaking uses either scrap or raw materials, to produce steel.

Basic Oxygen Steelmaking
  • Raw Material: Carbon-rich “pig iron” is the primary component for steel, and it is melted down in an oxygen furnace (often powered by fossil fuels such as coal, coke (basically a super dense version of coal), and natural gas)
  • In the process, oxygen is blown thru the metal, and as part of the chemical reactions, impurities are pulled out and steel is created.  A portion of the carbon from the iron is released as CO (carbon monoxide) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) – neither of these are awesome for the environment.
Electric arc Steelmaking works like this:
  • Raw Material: Steel Scraps or Pig Iron
  • In the process, electricity is used to create “electric arcs”, and as these arcs are hot, they melt scrap metal or pig iron.  Nonetheless, when processing Pig Iron rather than scrap, it still releases CO2, but just not even close to the same volume as conventional.

AnElectric arc furnaceis more flexible, more efficient, and in general seems to offer a lot more alternatives rather than the larger setup of the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking method.   Additionally, if (and that is a big IF) the Electric arc furnace used for steel production uses green energy sources, this can be a quite clean source of steel (comparatively).  An Electric arc factory uses 360-600 kWh per ton of steel.

So, the largest % of steel production is in the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking method, but this method is not up-to-date.  What to do?  What if someone, like a Swedish steel company, were to lead the way and find out how to make steel in the same method, but clean?  It can’t be done, can it?

SSAB’s Hybrit Technology leads the way as the method for making Fossil Free Steel.

How does SSAB make Fossil Free Steel?
  • Raw Material: Iron Pellets mined and processed without fossil fuels
  • This process is brilliant.  It uses the general setup of the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking (furnace, oxygen, etc.), but with SSAB’s Fossil Free Steel, hydrogen gas is used as the fuel used to heat the Oxygen Furnace.  When using Hydrogen gas, it mixes with Oxygen, you get H2O (water!) instead of CO or CO2 that comes from burning fossil fuels.  This H2O is then part of a circular system for energy production.

At TRIWA, we then receive the steel in extremely fine powder, and use a steel injection moulding process to produce our TRIWA x SSAB automatic and TRIWA x SSAB quartz watch cases.

Visually, the difference between Basic Oxygen Steel and Fossil-Free Steel production

Why does it matter that Fossil Free Steel now exists?

The Steel Industry is responsible for anywhere from 7-10% of Greenhouse Gas emissions, depending on the source you look at.  This is due to the process of transforming iron ore into steel.  Just imagine how big of an impact can be made as this technology gains momentum and replaces the “old” methods.  It is overwhelming and awesome that this is happening, and we at TRIWA believe it is essential to aid in this transition in any way we can.

As the below graph shows, steel production has been evolving – and basically every 50 years a new technology is developed, and an old one is reduced.  The last time a new method was created was in the 1970s, so it’s about time, isn’t it?  One might say, it’sTime for Change.

🟠 -Bessemer-Thomas
🟢 - Siemens-Martin
🔴 - Electric arc
🔵 - Oxygen converter
🟣 - Direct reduction