EAF innovation, scrap management guarantee steelmaking: UK Steel

The transition to electric arc furnace-based steelmaking is not expected to limit the UK steel industry’s capabilities, with recent innovations showing EAFs can produce even high-value-added steel by managing the raw material mix, according to UK Steel.

Tata Steel’s announcement last week it is closing its Port Talbot blast furnaces by year-end, in preparation for an EAF commissioning in 2027, has raised concerns over future UK value-added steel production.

In a briefing issued on Monday, UK Steel points out that in the UK, existing EAF producers, like Liberty Steel, are already producing highly specialised steel for aerospace and defence applications. Universities like Swansea University are meanwhile researching scrap sorting techniques, which will increase production range capabilities.

Impurities in scrap can lead to reduced fracture toughness, increased strength, or issues with formability with the steel produced. Some grades have tight limitations on residual elements, previously preventing them from being produced with EAFs. This has been an issue for certain flat products, which require a high degree of formability, UK Steel says.

“Steelmakers are overcoming these challenges through technological advances and mixing different amounts of pig iron or direct reduced iron into the EAF melt to dilute the residuals from the steel scrap and significantly increase product ranges,” UK Steel says in the briefing sent to Kallanish. “Furthermore, tight control of the scrap supply and improved technology in scrap sorting have also demonstrated the ability to prevent undesirable elements from entering the EAF feedstock.”

US steelmakers Nucor, SDI, and Big River Steel produce flats and use an average of over 30% ore-based metallics – mainly pig iron – to control residuals. They also only purchase high-quality steel scrap – for example, scrap generated directly from the steelmaking process or highly sorted shredded end-of-life scrap, UK Steel observes.

The Big River Steel plant has invested in EAF technology only previously seen in integrated steelworks to achieve highly specialised grades, it adds.

US mills’ capabilities “include producing products that cover the growing electrical steel market previously thought to be the exclusive provenance of the ore-based route by mixing scrap with ore-based metallics,” the association continues.

“Tata Steel’s announcement demonstrates the difficulty of operating in such a challenging steel market, with low steel demand, softening prices, and increasing costs,” says UK Steel director general Gareth Stace. “Decades of an uncompetitive business landscape have led to a lack of historical capital investment. Ageing assets at the end of their life means some companies must make impossible choices ahead of significant investment in green steelmaking.”

“Over the next few years, the sector will accelerate innovation and collaborate with our varied customer base to supply green steel via electric arc furnace steelmaking, using the abundance of scrap steel that the UK generates each year. Government must continue its pledge to significantly support the UK steel sector. It is time to accelerate commitments to deliver competitive electricity prices, grow green public procurement of steel, and ensure a trade remedies regime that backs British business.”

Adam Smith Poland