Why iron ore pellets are good news for sustainable steel

What does your kitchen sink have in common with the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai? They might be on a slightly different scale, but they’re both made of steel – the metal that supports our society. Without the steel industry, our world would look very different. But as economies around the world turn toward sustainability with increasing urgency, the steel industry is faced with the challenge of keeping pace. 

Supporting society in a new way

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 – the ambitious target set by many governments – won’t be easy for any of us, but the steel industry is facing one of the biggest challenges of all. Partly, this is due to its size: during 2020, about 1,864 million metric tons of crude steel were produced. At this scale, serious environmental impact is guaranteed using traditional production methods. The sintering phase is particularly well-known as the most energy-intensive and polluting step in the entire process. Society needs the industry’s support in a new way today: through rapid change. 

However, the huge scale of the steel industry could prove to be its biggest asset in the race to sustainability. Working at scale means that small changes have big effects – it’s the reason that process efficiency is so important. Each improvement has a big impact, which makes each step very meaningful. 

The sinter solution

Manufacturers have already begun to focus on sinter as the focus to start cutting emissions, and pelletized iron ore offers an innovative solution. Pellets reduce the amount of coking coal required and improve furnace productivity, reducing CO2 emissions in the process. By replacing sinter with high-grade pellets, traditional sintering can be skipped entirely – with electric arc furnaces (EAF) taking the place of the blast furnace, and direct-reduced iron (DRI) as an alternative feed material to steel scrap. This method is known as DRI-fed EAF, and it’s widely considered one of the best ways for the industry to reduce emissions. 

DRI-fed EAF offers a practical and hopeful solution to manufacturers at a time of pressure, which is why many have already made the switch. But process control is just as important in this more sustainable method as in the past, as manufacturers need to keep quality high and their furnaces running as efficiently as possible.  

Preparing for Industry 4.0

Process control in metal production relies heavily on analysis, and precision is key. To reduce waste, keep costs low and ensure quality, manufacturers need to understand every property of their materials, from their mineralogical phase and crystalline structure to particle size. This has always been the case when working with sinter, and it applies to iron ore pellets too. Any efficiencies gained can be lost again if materials are ‘off-spec’.

Tools such as X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and laser diffraction analysis are already widely used and will only become more important in the transition to carbon-neutrality. But the days of laboratory testing and unrepresentative sampling are over – at least, in optimized production environments. Often called ‘industry 4.0’, automated solutions and high-throughput analysis are presenting manufacturers with another valuable way to maximize their efficiency and reduce their environmental impact.  

Futureproof tools

Instruments like the AerisAxios FAST and Insitec ranges from Malvern Panalytical are helping metals companies keep up in the sustainability race and future-proof their processes. With automation options and high-throughput capacity, they offer expert analysis at the speed the modern industry demands – saving time, resources, and costs. In a rapidly evolving steel landscape, better analysis is a trustworthy guide. 

We’re proud to be helping make the transition to automation and sustainable practices smoother and easier.  

Written by: Uwe Konig, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)


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