Tata Steel UK reduces energy use at Port Talbot with laser technology

The UK’s largest steel producer Tata Steel is cutting the energy use and the carbon footprint of the hot rolling mill at its Port Talbot plant in South Wales by using laser technology at the site’s two slab re-heating furnaces, it said Oct. 14.

The technology also improved product quality and consistency, it said, adding that the site’s furnaces were the first digitally fired furnaces globally to use the technology.

The installed laser sensors analyze slab heating furnaces molecule by molecule to measure the combustion products and the temperature profile of the furnace to produce live visual data, Tata Steel Process Technologist Jonathan Richards said.

“Heating slabs to the correct temperature is critical to ensure the metallurgical properties match the requirement of our customers,” he said, adding that the system also allowed the company to monitor and control gas usage more accurately, saving energy and costs and reducing the carbon footprint.

The furnaces are fueled by around 60% natural gas supplemented with around 40% process gases from the operation’s coke ovens, according to Tata.

“Our energy usage has fallen dramatically and this work has helped the business reduce more of its carbon footprint,” Richards said.

The technology can also narrow down issues to any of the 56 burners in each furnace, which will allow for more efficient planning ahead of maintenance stops, cleaning and calibrations, he said.

Tata worked with Koch Engineered Solutions’ technology company OnPoint Digital Solutions to perfect the solution, the company said.

The solution used OnPoint’s ZoloSCAN laser technology, OnPoint Service Manager and Engineer David Brinkmann said, which provides laser-based combustion monitoring and diagnostic capabilities for ultra-harsh environments to optimize the yield, efficiency, and safety of combustion applications, according to the company’s website.

Tata plans to make the process a closed loop operation as part of the next phase of the project, with the system detecting anomalies and automatically adjusting the furnace gas flows to ensure optimum energy efficiencies, it said.

Port Talbot is the UK’s largest steel plant and is around 81% energy self-sufficient, using gases from its blast furnaces, steel plant and coke ovens to generate heat and electricity through its on-site power plant, according to Tata.

Tata Steel aims to produce net-zero steel in the UK latest by 2050 and have CO2 emissions reduced by 30% by 2030.

Tata Steel UK has a designed steelmaking capacity of 5 million mt/year and produces around 3.5 million mt/year.

Platts, part of S&P Global Commodity Insights, assessed the weekly UK hot-rolled coil price at GBP700/mt ($783.74/mt) DDP West Midlands Oct. 13, down 15.7% from the start of 2022.

— Jacqueline Holman