FREMONT, CA : The iron and steel sector has undergone a technological revolution in the last few years. In a relatively short time, the industry has observed the complete disappearance of basic open hearth processing, and extensive spread adoption of continuous casting and the near-complete transformation of long product production to the electric arc furnace sector. Modern iron making and steelmaking is intensive in material and energy usage and capital requirements. The sector is also faced with an extensive range of environmental concerns related to the high energy need, material usage, and the byproducts associated with producing more than 725 million tonnes of iron and steel per year worldwide.
The blast furnace, in several forms, has remained the workhorse of virgin iron production for more than 200 years, creating carbon-saturated hot metal for subsequent processing by steelmaking operations. However, the modern blast furnace has innovated a long way from its earlier ancestors. Most modern large-potential blast furnaces represent efficient chemical reactors, capable of operation with reactant feed materials. The injection of pulverized coal, natural gas, oil, and recycled plastics to replace a portion of the metallurgical coke leveraged as the primary reductant and source of chemical energy represents an essential development in the process.
Enhancements in process control and mitigated refractory wear have increased blast furnace campaign life significantly, which is vital to the economics of the process. The present expected lifetime of newly rebuilt furnaces is 20 years or greater. Enhanced process control, burden design, regular maintenance, and reduction of unscheduled shut-downs have dramatically impacted the productivity of blast furnace operations. Several steel firms have shut down older furnaces while managing or increasing hot-metal production by increasing the productivity of new furnaces.
The iron and steel sector is regarded as a fully matured industry, leveraging proven processes with only incremental technological developments. However, the past 30 years have witnessed several dramatic technological developments, which have transformed the industry's organizational structure, productivity, efficiency, and product properties worldwide. The continued enhancement of conventional processes and development and deployment of new technologies will rely heavily upon the determination, creativity, and resourcefulness of the people who are up to the challenge.