DRI: the ‘direct’ route to greener steel

Today, directness is more than a virtue – it’s a strategy for success. And even the steel industry is following suit! Solutions such as direct reduced iron (DRI) are helping the industry to confront environmental challenges head-on by providing an alternative method to reduce iron ore, a notoriously energy-intensive process. With steel producers striving to reduce carbon emissions, evolving technologies and efficient methods are at the forefront of this revolutionary shift.

Taking the first step

Maximizing energy efficiency in steel production not only saves energy (and costs!) but significantly reduces emissions that damage the environment. Accurate process monitoring, using versatile technologies like X-ray diffraction (XRD) and pulsed fast and thermal neutron activation (PFTNA) on-line, can play a crucial role in optimizing both energy use and process efficiency. This is a great ‘first step’ for many production operations. These on-line tools can be used to create immediate impact within existing setups as drop-in solutions, speeding up analysis that was previously done manually, or improving blast furnace efficiency through more stable feeds. Later, the same solutions can form part of a new or updated process that is designed for greater sustainability in future and incorporates new methods.

The direct route

But how to get from this first step to a more futureproof setup? The industry’s pivot toward carbon neutrality is leading to the development of new technologies and carbon-free steel production methods – and DRI is quickly becoming a key player in this green revolution. By requiring both lower operating temperatures and much less (or no) coke during the iron reduction process, DRI represents a significant improvement in both energy consumption and emissions. It also represents a great ‘direct’ route to more sustainable operations due to its versatility.

In DRI processes, coke or another carbon reductant is replaced by a reducing gas, such as H2. Iron ore pellets are reduced in a shaft furnace where the temperature can be relatively low – in the region of 800° C. Depending on the production setup, the DRI can then be fed either into a blast furnace as hot briquetted iron (HBI), in which case the blast furnace runs much more efficiently and uses less coke, or into an electric arc furnace (EAF).

Even while still relying on the blast furnace, DRI helps to significantly mitigate the environmental impact of this famously resource-hungry process – offering a way for producers to begin making progress quickly toward sustainability goals. When the EAF is used, this offers the opportunity to make the entire primary steelmaking production chain carbon neutral by powering the furnace with green electricity.

How efficiency unlocks the future

And process efficiency is no less relevant during this process than in the ‘old fashioned’ approach. Running both blast furnaces and EAFs at maximum efficiency will make a big difference to energy consumption – and this relies on smart monitoring.

XRD gives insight into critical parameters such as metallic iron content (Femet), metallization (Metn), total carbon content (Ctot), and mineralogical phase content. One case study demonstrated that these parameters could be derived from a single five-minute measurement taken on an Aeris Metals edition XRD. By providing quick and precise control of these parameters, XRD removes the ‘brakes’ that could slow down the uptake and future potential of greener methods like DRI – and unlocks many other efficiencies throughout the steelmaking process.

Taking the direct approach together

The future of steelmaking is here – it’s efficient and green. With DRI processes as a great example and advanced technologies providing critical support, we’re witnessing a paradigm shift in the industry. The path to sustainable steelmaking is ‘direct,’ and it’s a journey we’re committed to navigating together.

Throughout the entire steel value chain, from raw material to steel and coating, cutting-edge technologies and efficient process monitoring are shaping the journey towards sustainability. Malvern Panalytical is leading this transformation by providing a blend of expertise and innovation for a greener future in the iron and steel industry – so, get in touch today to discover how we could bring the green transformation to your processes!

Blog Written by : Uwe König, Tuesday,15 August 2023


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