Maximize productivity and sustainability on the road to ‘green’ steel

First published in Iron and Steel Today, volume 17, issue 1, April / May 2023.

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A partner with an in-depth understanding of metals processes can help steel manufacturers optimize production, reduce emissions and future-proof their operations ready for the hydrogen revolution, as Frederik Esterhuizen, global business line manager for metals at ABB Process Industries, explains.

Steelmakers face unprecedented challenges around sustainability. The industry is responsible for roughly 7% of global CO2 emissions1, and the onus is on manufacturers to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, while at the same time continuing to maximize production to meet demand.

Using hydrogen to produce ‘green’ steel is undoubtedly the way forward – but high costs, limited resources and the lack of a unified policy framework mean we are not there yet.

Partnering with a company that can demonstrate deep domain expertise in metals processes, as well as class-leading technologies that provide substitutes for fossil fuels, boost energy performance and reduce emissions, will not only enable steel manufacturers to maintain a competitive edge but also develop a strategic digitalization and decarbonization road map ahead of the hydrogen transition.

Frederik Esterhuizen, Global Gusiness Line Manager Metals at ABB Process Industries.

A very smart move

At ABB Metals, this strategy focuses on four distinct areas: energy recovery; energy reduction; energy substitution; and, finally, energy management and optimization using key technologies.

Steel melt shops, for example, are under pressure to produce the same tonnage while reducing OPEX. The solution? Optimizing process efficiency using digital solutions that detect and eliminate equipment or process bottlenecks, improve throughput, and reduce energy usage and emissions.

ABB Ability™ Smart Melt Shop is enabling the move towards a fully connected, autonomous and optimized steel melt shop. It does this by connecting operations with both ladle tracking and crane scheduling based on data including thermal modelling2. The industry-first smart factory solution is already proving its worth at JSW Steel’s Dolvi Works plant in India, boosting profits by an estimated $2m per annum through 4% higher casting speeds and additional output of 24,000 tonnes a year.

Collaboration is the key to success

As I mentioned, partnering with technology providers with deep domain expertise in the metals space can result in ground-breaking solutions that offer a competitive edge in the here and now.

Consteerrer® – an innovative electromagnetic stirring technology for continuously charging electric arc furnace systems based on ABB’s ArcSave® technology – was developed as part of a collaborative project between ABB and Tenova. Deployed at Italian steelmaker Acciaieria Arvedi’s record-breaking melting unit (furnace tapping size 300mt), electromagnetic stirring has boosted productivity by 5%, reduced electrical energy consumption by 3.6% and significantly improved metallic charge yield.

Solutions such as these and ABB’s furnace optimization control system (FOCS) and advanced process control (APC) are specifically designed to help steelmakers meet the dual challenges of maximizing yields and hitting sustainability targets. Combined with ABB’s Energy Management System (EnMS)3 which gives operators the power to manage energy demand, supply and price volatility, and reduce costs, they bring valuable benefits ahead of the widespread advent of hydrogen and smart carbon/carbon storage.

Sustainability along the value chain

First-mover advantage is critical here, which is why ABB is supporting the HYBRIT project in Sweden, the world’s large-scale, fossil-free steelmaking pilot plant as well as providing control solutions for a pilot carbon capture plant at Imperial College, London and Lhyfe’s green hydrogen production facility in France.

Through its eMine™ electrification strategy, ABB is committed to improving efficiency and reducing emissions at every stage of the production chain – from raw materials to processing and refining.

We must lead by example, of course. With its 2030 sustainability strategy and Mission to Zero™ initiative4, ABB is enabling a low-carbon society, and working with customers and suppliers to implement sustainable practices across the value chain and the lifecycle of its own products and solutions.

Journey to the future

Steelmakers, as in many other energy-intensive industries that produce materials critical to modern life are tasked with maintaining production to meet demand while simultaneously reducing their CO2 footprint – as well as future-proofing operations ready to produce ‘green’ steel using hydrogen.

Thankfully, they have at their disposal a range of digital, electrification and automation technologies developed by technology providers with an in-depth knowledge of metals and large-scale industry, all of which are designed to help them hit not only their short and medium-term sustainability goals, but also compete from a position of strength in the brave new world of low-carbon manufacturing.

ABB Metals is both excited and perfectly positioned to accompany its customers on this journey.

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