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USS moving closer to coke self-sufficiency

Keywords: Tags  coke, Cokonyx, U.S. Steel Corp., John P. Surma, steelmaking, Lisa Gordon

PITTSBURGH — U.S. Steel Corp. is making progress in its quest to become self-sufficient in its coke needs, with two projects slated to be completed this year.

"Investments in coke and coke substitute production capabilities continue to be one area of focus for us in order to improve both our environmental performance as well as our long-term self-sufficiency in this very important raw material," chairman and chief executive officer John P. Surma said Tuesday in prepared remarks at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Pittsburgh.

As part of that effort, the company has been modernizing its Clairton, Pa., coke plant, including the installation of two quenching towers and a new "C" coke battery, which is slated for completion by year-end.

Construction is also continuing at a 500,000-ton-per-year alternative coke plant at the company’s Gary (Ind.) Works, which U.S. Steel also expects to finish later this year, Surma said. Known as Carbonyx, the carbon alloy synthesis process is expected to be energy efficient and produce a coke substitute product called Cokonyx.

A 2010 trial run of Cokonyx at one of the steelmaker’s blast furnaces created no difference in the performance of the furnace, the company said at the time (AMM, June 7, 2010). When completed, this will be the first domestic application of the technology.

Once the "C" battery and Carbonyx plant are running, the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker will be largely self-sufficient when it comes to its coke needs. "We should be pretty well out of the purchased coke game, and that was a bad place for us to be—tight market, poor quality, hard deliveries. So we’ll be much better off, both cost- and operating-wise, to be out of that market," Surma said during a Tuesday conference call.

At the same time, U.S. Steel is working to increase its use of natural gas injection into its blast furnaces as natural gas continues to boast low prices at levels that haven’t been seen for a decade.

"One of the most significant cost-reduction initiatives we have recently undertaken involves enhancing our North American blast furnaces to allow for increased injection of natural gas in order to decrease our usage of coke, a key steelmaking raw material. We are currently working toward a goal of reducing coke usage by 100 pounds per ton of hot metal compared to 2010 rates," Surma said at the shareholders’ meeting.

Based on current coke and natural gas prices, blast furnace fuel costs could decrease by about $15 for each ton produced as a result.

"That is a significant cost savings when you can produce approximately 20 million tons of steel per year," Surma said.

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