Steel News

Electric Steelmaking’s Continued Gains Will Require More Hard Work, Ingenuity

5/16/2022 - Although U.S. electric arc furnace production has enjoyed near linear growth, it would be a mistake to assume future growth will persist unabated, a Carnegie Mellon University professor cautioned on Monday.

“It is tempting to extrapolate (growth) up to 100% and say ‘We’ll get there by 2050 or before.” Of course, it gets harder as we get (closer) because of the need for fresh iron units to produce high-quality steels and the availability of scrap,” said P. Chris Pistorius, a metallurgical engineer and the co-director of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Iron and Steelmaking Research.  

“This steady, gradual change shouldn’t blind us to the fact that (decarbonization via the electric arc furnace) is truly a challenge, which will require very careful quantification of alternatives by many skilled engineers.”

Pistorius’ comments came during the 2022 Brimacombe Memorial Lecture, which marked the official start to AISTech 2022, AIST’s annual conference and exposition. The conference is taking place this week in Pittsburgh, Pa., USA. 

Pistorius’ lecture was primarily about modern analytical tools that can rapidly inform steelmakers about the chemical processes taking place in molten steel as well as the cleanliness of their steel. However, decarbonization is expected to dominate the discussions at AISTech, and Pistorius offered some perspective on the scope of the challenge ahead.  

Despite the hard work that will be needed, the industry should be encouraged by its own history, he said, pointing out that steel has been quick to embrace technological innovation, public perceptions notwithstanding. 

Case in point, he said, is the puddling process, which was supplanted by Bessemer steelmaking in about 10 years. Similarly, the open hearth furnace was overtaken by the basic oxygen furnace in about 15 years. 

“Externally, there is this view of the steel industry being a conservative endeavor that is slow to change. But this very clearly is not the case. Our industry has changed very quickly in the past; it is having to do so now. I think the skills are there to be able to do this.” 

If you missed the lecture, you can watch it here. Registration is free.