Steelmaking is a primary industry that requires enormous amounts of heat and energy. As such, it is not the first sector that comes to mind when it comes to energy efficiency and sustainability.Nevertheless, the industry is taking steps to improve its environmental criteria and is using a number of innovative technologies to reduce the environmental impact of steel production.
Basic steel production in the steel industry, processes is based on three steps which are raw material preparation, iron production, and steel production. All these processes can be finished with many different types of steel for specific needs.
Production methods in the steel industry have advanced substantially since the beginning of industrial production in the late 19th century. Current techniques are still dependent on similar groundwork to the first Bessemer process, which uses oxygen to reduce the carbon content of iron.
The iron-making step involves the raw materials of metallic iron, coke, and lime being smelted in a blast furnace. In addition, the final liquid iron still contains 4-4.5 percent carbon and various impurities that make it brittle.
Steelmaking has two basic techniques: BOF (Basic Oxygen Furnace) and the more modern EAF (Electric Arc Furnace). Basic shaping, e.g., hot, and cold rolled strips, bars, round tubes, structural shapes, rails. Then the secondary processes, which are coating, heat treatment, surface treatment, and metal cutting, give the steel its final shape and properties
Despite all the challenges in the steel industry, such as evolving customer demands, geopolitical uncertainty, the impact of e-mobility, and the impact of digitization, some technologies provide more efficient processes, better quality steel, environmentally friendly production, and quality consistency, etc.
Technological Advances In The Steel Industry:
- The birth of steel: Steel production begins with raw materials: coal, limestone, and iron ore. Each requires further processing after extraction. Ironmaking is the process of turning iron ore into liquid iron. First, the coal is baked in furnaces to produce pure carbon called “metallurgical coke,” the necessary fuel for blast furnaces. Limestone is also added to improve chemical reactions and absorb impurities from molten iron. 98 percent of all iron ore mined is used in the steelmaking process. A blast furnace uses coke, iron ore, and limestone to produce liquid iron – the basic element of steel.
- Modern improvements: While this process has been around for centuries, modern operations use computer models, robotics, remotely controlled machines, and artificial intelligence to monitor and control conditions inside the furnace. Gone are the days when workers stood within arm’s reach of molten metal to manually check the condition with hand tools.
The labor required to produce a ton of steel has decreased dramatically thanks to new technologies, innovative labor agreements, and simple economies of scale. Fewer but bigger furnaces mean fewer workers in the shop and safer operations.
- EAF and DRI: In EAF, electrical energy is used to melt recycled scrap steel using electric arcs to create liquid steel. ETFs are known for their smaller carbon footprint and higher efficiency. Several steel manufacturers have taken the mini-roller concept a step further in terms of range, range of operation, and electrical power consumption. One method to improve the range by changing the raw material is to use direct reduction iron (DRI) pellets or briquettes.
DRI is produced in a low-pressure reactor by direct reduction of iron ore, thereby reducing the oxygen content of the ore without melting it. Natural gas – or other gases such as hydrogen – is used as a reducing agent to produce DRI.
- Automation and security: Advances in process control allow product quality to be predicted using sensors. Using closed-loop systems to automatically adapt to changes, is a great leap forward in efficient and improved quality control. There have been great leaps forward in other aspects of steelmaking – ironmaking is just the beginning. And while the basic steps of the iron and steel making process are the same as they were 100 years ago, the implementation of new technologies has greatly improved the process, making it simpler, safer, and faster.
Technological progress increases the efficiency of the industry in other ways as well. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is allowing technology to work in ever closer harmony with various aspects of metal production and is changing the way steel is made.
In addition to transforming traditional manufacturing environments into highly automated “smart” plants, digitalization allows the various parts of the steelmaking process to interact and use their full potential.
Production control systems in a digitized factory use sensor technology, digital production planning tools, and sophisticated AI-driven diagnostics to monitor every smart component. Output is optimized for maximum overall performance, and as part of this process, every function in the plant is constantly analyzed and refined to progressively improve efficiency.
Future systems will use machine learning to find the optimal way to produce steel with minimal resources.Along with improving efficiency, this will also help reduce the environmental impact of steel production throughout the production journey.
– Amrin Ahmed