Green rush? That might be too strong a term,
but just as the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada kicked
off the California gold rush in the mid-1800s, wind energy has
enormous boom potential. And the steel industry stands at the
head of the line to receive the windfall, with those not
already involved in the industry at least taking a very close
look at it.
Nucor Corp., Charlotte, N.C., began making
plate for wind towers in 2005 and has steadily increased its
participation since then, said Jeff Whiteman, sales manager at
plate mill Nucor Steel-Hertford.
"Based on forecasts from the tower
manufacturers, we expect business conditions to be strong for
the next several years," Whiteman said, noting that many tower
manufacturers are sold out through 2008 and are taking orders
for 2009. The market for steel in wind and other alternative
energies could grow as much as 15 percent a year, he added.
In May, ArcelorMittal announced plans to
restart its plate mill in Gary, Ind., thanks in part to
increased demand for plate in wind towers (AMM, May
The average U.S. tower uses tens of thousands
of tons-and sometimes more than 100,000 tons-of commodity-grade
plate. Offshore towers, a growing market within the already
booming wind energy business, can use even more. Steve
Lundmark, vice president of sales and marketing at Claymont
Steel Holdings Inc., Claymont Del., said the offshore market
could grow significantly, especially in the North Atlantic and
off the European coast. Claymont has already received inquiries
and made some quotes, he said. "With the value of the dollar
vs. the euro, and the demand for steel plate in Europe, it
doesn't put us at a disadvantage. We watch it, and for jobs
that make sense we're going to do it."
Timken Co. has already jumped headfirst into
the wind energy business, according to Gerald P. Fox, chief
technologist of power transmissions and controls at the Canton,
Ohio-based steelmaker. "Timken is looking to make a major move
into that industry," he said. "The projected growth is so high,
demand certainly outstrips supply for the foreseeable
The company has been introducing
precision-engineered products to the wind energy sector for the
past six years, including gear systems and bearings. Some of
the bearings are small, but others weigh up to 4 tonnes.
The bearings are necessary to support the
massive forces generated by the drivetrain connected to the
rotor blades. "They may look like these very slow, mesmerizing
machines," Fox said of windmills. "But it's huge power. It's
equivalent to having a diesel locomotive up on your tower. And
the bearings have to support that load."
With so much demand, however, chances are
that those needs simply can't be met. That's especially true
for the large gears used to transmit power in windmills.
"Demand is just overwhelming right now, not just in the U.S.
but worldwide," Joe T. Franklin, president of the American Gear
Manufacturers Association, Alexandria, Va., said. "In a sense,
it's sucking all of the oxygen out of the room."
Companies like Allegheny Technologies Inc.
(ATI), Pittsburgh, also are getting into the act with ductile
iron castings that are used to hold the blades together at the
point where they meet the turbine. Some of the castings weigh
as much as 40,000 pounds, said Dan Greenfield, the specialty
metals company's director of investor relations.
The castings business is a small one for ATI,
he said, but noted that wind energy is a growing part of that
business. "Alternative energy is a fast-growing market, and one
that is a focus for us."