Liberty reignites some blast furnaces in Europe, power supply issues in Ostrava might threaten restart

Steelmaker Liberty Steel restarted one blast furnace (BF) in Europe in December and plans to restart another one in January, a company spokesperson told Fastmarkets on Thursday December 14.

Over the past weekend (December 9-10), Liberty restarted BF No5 in Galati, Romania, the spokesperson said.

The furnace was idled in mid-October, with Liberty citing disruptions of supply chains as a major factor behind the stoppage.

BF No5 has capacity for 2 million tonnes per year of pig iron.

The company declined to comment on the timeline for the output ramp-up in Galati as well as new finished steel offers from the facility.

Liberty has capacity to produce plate, hot-rolled coil, cold-rolled coil and hot-dip galvanized coil in Galati.

In addition, Liberty revealed earlier this week plans to restart operations at its BF No3 at the Ostrava steelworks, Czech Republic, in January 2024. The BF in Ostrava was idled in late October because of weak market fundamentals.

The BF No3 has capacity for 1 million tonnes per year of pig iron.

The company told Fastmarkets that it has no plans to restart BF No2 at the Ostrava steelworks. It was idled in July 2022 due to poor market conditions.

The company can produce HRC, CRC, wire rod and sections at Ostrava.

The company did not comment on the reasons behind the restarts, but pointed out that they were meant to be temporary.

Power supply issues in Ostrava
On Thursday, Fastmarkets heard that Liberty Ostrava’s only power and heat provider, Tameh Czech, might stop supply to the asset within a few days, since Liberty had failed to pay its bills to Tameh Czech and the company has no money to buy coal.

“We note the threat from Tameh that they will start the closure of the power plant today. We are deeply disappointed by this threat of a unilateral and value destructive action by Tameh, which has the potential to cause the loss of many thousands of jobs across the Ostrava region,” the spokesperson said.

On November 29, Liberty received a moratorium against Tameh for 30 days to come up with a restructuring plan.

Liberty also said that it in line with the “preventive restructuring” moratorium, it has “already proposed a number of solutions including an offer to provide Tameh with the coal it needs to keep the plant working while our negotiations continue”.

“We will continue our efforts to identify a joint solution to ensure that these unfortunate proposed actions by Tameh do not damage the sustainable future of our business or impact the health and safety of our employees and the local neighbourhoods which depend on us for heating.”

In case power supply is stopped and no solution is found, Liberty will not be able to resume operations at BF No3 in Ostrava, Fastmarkets understands.

Wider market
Prices for flat steel in Europe have started to pick up since the beginning of November, with increases, however, mainly driven by reduced supply amid output cuts and some restocking activity.

Fastmarkets’ daily steel hot-rolled coil index domestic, exw Northern Europe averaged €653.46 ($706.10) per tonne in November, up by €36.83 per tonne from a monthly average of €616.63 per tonne in October. The index was calculated at €690.83 per tonne ex-works on Thursday.

Buyer sources have stressed multiple times that the acute uptrend in the flat steel market in the EU is mainly being driven by reduced supply, since end-user demand remains limited and is unlikely to rebound in the short term.

Therefore, the news of possible capacity restarts in the first quarter of 2024 has led to concerns among buyers.

“Demand [for HRC] remains stable on the low side, so if we see capacity gradually coming back online in the first quarter, prices will start to decline again,” a trader in Germany said.

Except for the restarts announced by Liberty, sources also expected BF “A” at Salzgitter and BFNo6 at Tata Steel Ijmuiden to be restarted during the first quarter of 2024.

Published by: Julia Bolotova