Europe's Steel Industry Cleaning up Its Act

Europe's Steel Industry Cleaning up Its Act

ENS) – Iron oxide sludge has long been the environmental curse of steel manufacturing, but a German company is turning this hazardous waste byproduct into high performance magnets. EKO Stahl's "flash treatment" method is one of four new environmentally friendly methods whose impact on Europe's steel industry will be discussed at a press conference Tuesday.

Steel is a metal composed of iron and varying amounts of carbon as well as other elements such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum, zirconium, vanadium and tungsten. Different types of steel are produced by adjusting the chemical composition and adapting any of the different stages of the steelmaking process, such as rolling, finishing and heat treatment.

The European steel industry employs about 300,000 people and annually produces 160 million tons of steel, worth more than 70 billion euros (US$58.8 billion). The industry's demands on the environment can be just as high.

A traditional strip casting steel line is 800 to 1,000 meters (2,625 to 3,281 feet) long and uses vast quantities of energy with proportionally large carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most significant of a number of "greenhouse gases" whose effect is to trap solar energy, resulting in global warming.

At tomorrow's presentation, a consortium led by another German company, Salzgitter AG, will explain how it has reduced the strip casting process to a fraction of the space. Consequently, energy consumption and CO2 production during the casting and rolling process has been reduced by up to 90 percent.

The scientific and technological research on display Tuesday has been funded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which was created to intergrate the coal and steel industries of the European Union's 15 member nations. It currently funds steel research worth about 56 million euros (US$47 million) a year.

Four projects will be presented by research scientists. After the presentations, the European Union's research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin, Francis Mer, chairman of the Usinor Group, and the presenting scientists will answer questions.

The event will be hosted by Usinor Group's Sollac Atlantic steel plant in Dunkirk, France. The company is using what it calls "artifical intelligence" to monitor the 3,350 variables possible during every minute of blast furnace production.

The project developed by Usinor's advanced data processing unit uses rules built into an expert system to monitor these variables, giving warnings and recommendations based on these. This makes operations safer, produces better quality steel that needs less reprocessing, and gives the blast furnace a longer life.

EKO Stahl of Germany will explain how it tackles iron oxide sludge, a hazardous waste product resulting from the regeneration of the hydrochloric acid used for 'pickling' the steel. Pickling is a process that relies on acid to dissolve the iron oxide scale that builds up during hot rolling and heat treatment of steel.

Traditionally this sludge was roasted for 45 minutes in a rotary kiln using large quantities of energy. EKO Stahl's vertical "flash" treatment lasts only three seconds, is cleaner, requires less space, uses less energy and is easier to control.

The resulting ferrite powder forms an excellent raw material for high performance permanent magnets.

Belgium's Center for Research in Metallurgy will demonstrate how its new thermal treatment helps make the kind of steel used in cars more resistant to corrosion from water and road salt.

The treatment addresses the weaknesses of galvannealing, the combination of galvanizing and annealing used to press steel for car parts. During pressing, the protective surface layer can deteriorate and, once the steel has become part of a car, stones flung up from the road can chip small pieces away leaving unprotected steel vulnerable to rust.

The Belgian center's research reduces wear and tear on the carmaker's tools and gives the consumer a car with a longer life.

The European Coal and Steel Community's current research program funds about 330 projects worth 420 million euros (US$353 million).

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