GravitHy to build its first green iron plant in fos-sur-mer to help decarbonize the steel industry in France and Europe

success story
GravitHy to build its first green iron plant in fos-sur-mer to help decarbonize the steel industry in France and Europe
José Noldin, CEO of GravitHy
03 May 2023 / Eco-industries, invest in provence

A €2.2 billion project to boost the transition to a low-carbon economy

The steel industry is one of the most carbon-intensive industrial activities and it accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions. GravitHy will be able to significantly reduce the sector’s carbon footprint by using hydrogen to manufacture pre-reduced iron ore, which is the semi-finished material required for steel production.

GravitHy is composed of a consortium of industrial and energy firms that have complementary expertise. Led by CEO José Noldin, the company is committed to meeting the low-carbon challenge by opening France’s first green iron plant in the Aix-Marseille-Provence territory. The plant will be located in the heart of the historic industrial zone in Fos-sur-Mer and will involve a total investment of €2.2 billion. Engineering studies have begun, and a €70 million fundraising campaign is being prepared for the second half of 2023. The project is supported by the European Union, the French government, and numerous public institutions, as well as both the Provence Promotion and risingSUD economic development agencies.

GravitHy’s innovative green iron production process will eliminate pollution from blast furnaces, which are responsible for more than 80% of the steel sector’s CO2 emissions. The use of green hydrogen will make it possible to replace the fossil and carbon-based fuels that the traditional steelmaking process requires. This is a historic breakthrough considering that standard industrial blast furnace technology dates back to the 18th century.

The first green iron plant in France

The GravitHy consortium was formed in June 2022 and is headquartered in Marseille. It has a project for a pre-reduced iron plant in Fos-sur-Mer and aims to manufacture two million tons of Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) thanks to energy produced by its own green hydrogen supply.

Direct Reduced Iron is a semi-finished product that will either be used at the Fos-sur-Mer site as feedstock to manufacture green steel or will be marketed in France and Europe in the form of hot briquetted iron (HBI).

The GravitHy initiative is led by EIT InnoEnergy, which already has experience with successful factory projects such as the Verkor site in France and the Northvolt and H2 Green Steel sites in Sweden. For the project in Fos-sur-Mer, EIT InnoEnergy has brought together five other industrial shareholders with complementary expertise:

  • Engie New Ventures for electricity markets;
  • Plug, a start-up dedicated to hydrogen production solutions;
  • Forvia, which is committed to large-scale decarbonization of the automotive market;
  • Primetals Technologies for DRI production technology;
  • and Groupe IDEC for development and services at the industrial site.

This innovative business model will help ensure the project’s success and enable it to offer high-added value for diverse sectors that rely on steel, including the automotive, transportation, and consumer goods industries.

Steps toward the construction of the Fos-sur-Mer plant, scheduled for 2024

As part of the first phase of the project, GravitHy has begun preparatory studies for a 70-hectare site at the Port of Marseille Fos. The company has also established an advanced base in Marseille consisting of a temporary office that currently has a team of about a dozen people working with engineers and experts in France and abroad. The next phase will include comprehensive project planning and launching the first calls for tenders.

“We chose the Fos-sur-Mer site because it is located in a historical industrial basin with a strong metalworking tradition. By setting up at the Port of Marseille Fos, we benefit from a strategic location at the crossroads of Europe with river and rail transport infrastructure that will facilitate the management of our logistics flows,” explains José Noldin, who expects to handle up to five million tons of products per year.

A steering committee under the direction of Régis Passerieux — the Sub-Prefect of Istres and the Sub-Prefect in charge of the €54-billion France 2030 industrial investment fund — regularly brings together government services and regional institutions to monitor the progress of the project. Another steering committee, which is co-organized by risingSUD and Provence Promotion, has been established for financing issues.

Supported by a diverse range of local partners, including the mayor of Fos-sur-Mer, the GravitHy project perfectly corresponds to the challenges of reducing greenhouse gases and accelerating the energy transition.

Aligned with the France 2030 fund’s objectives for industrial innovation and green industry, the GravitHy project represents decarbonization targets equivalent to 5% of French industry. This first plant could also be replicated elsewhere in Europe.

The €2.2 billion investment will have a positive economic impact on the Aix-Marseille territory as it is expected to create 3000 jobs, including 500 direct jobs. A targeted fundraising of €70 million is planned for the second half of 2023. The GravitHy Day event, held on April 24 in Marseille, was a chance to present an overview of the project’s ambitious environmental and economic goals.