Liberty buys French mills to expand rail business in Europe, internationally

Liberty Steel Group won the competition for French mills Hayange and Ascoval, originally part of British Steel, with the mills set to form the company’s first steel business in France.

Following the decision in July by the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Strasbourg to award Hayange to Liberty Steel, the French government gave its final approval for the deal on Aug. 14. Liberty Steel Group is part of Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance.

The assets will expand Liberty Steel Group’s rail business, which is currently comprised of a rail mill in Whyalla, South Australia. The acquisition will create an integrated GREENSTEEL rail business in France, the company said in a statement on Aug. 14.

Liberty’s GREENSTEEL model seeks to transform steel making through increased use of steel scrap recycling in Electric Arc Furnaces, or EAFs, application of low carbon and renewable energy sources to power industrial processes and use of hydrogen instead of coking coal as a reducing agent for iron ore through Direct Reduced Iron plants to remove CO2 emissions from steel making. The GREENSTEEL strategy is key to GFG Alliance’s aim to become carbon neutral by 2030.

“The acquisition will secure the future of the nationally strategic plants and their 700-strong workforce”, it said.

The Hayange plant, located in Moselle, France, manufactures over 300,000 mt/year of steel rails that it supplies to major infrastructure clients including France’s national rail operator SNCF and RATP, the operator of Paris’ metro system.

While the French rail market will remain its priority, with help from across the Liberty Steel network, Hayange may be able to grow rail sales across Europe and other markets.

The deal also rescues Ascoval’s plant in Saint-Saulve in northern France that was placed into an ad hoc receivership process last year. It uses EAF technology and is capable of producing 600,000 mt/year of steel blooms, billets and other forged products. Ascoval will supply Hayange with semis, together creating an integrated French GREENSTEEL rail business.

“We will revive both businesses …. connect them to bigger opportunities in the market, host downstream developments, and provide additional demand for Ascoval’s steel,” Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of GFG Alliance and Liberty Steel Group said on the acquisition.

“We intend to develop Ascoval as a GREENSTEEL hub and to drive Hayange into new markets through strong engagement with European rail operators seeking to make their networks carbon neutral.”

To enact its plan of building a rail and rail services business with international reach, and based on the GREENSTEEL model, Liberty had committed to providing an initial Eur65 million for its new assets.

— Ekaterina Bouckley