NEW YORK New technologies and cheaper energy are driving a revival in alternative iron units, such as direct-reduced iron (DRI) and hot-briquetted iron (HBI), according to panelists at the Steel Success Strategies XXVIII conference in New York.
"A number of factors have brought about the possible rebirth of direct reduction in North America," Thomas Scarnati, manager of marketing and sales at Tenova Hyl, a subsidiary of Milan-based Tenova SpA, said at the event, sponsored by AMM and World Steel Dynamics Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Favorable energy prices from shale gas, accessible iron ore supplies and technological advancements all work as incentives for steelmakers to invest in the upstream innovations, he said.
For example, Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp. is gearing up to commission its 2.5-million ton-per-year DRI plant in Louisiana (amm.com, April 19).
The renewed interest is a 180-degree turn from the situation a decade ago, according to Scarnati.
"Many plants shut down because they could not operate profitably, partially due to high natural gas prices," he said. "Iron plants were mothballed or shipped elsewhere."
But technological advances have made alternative iron plants more user-friendly, Scarnati said.
"Basically, its a simple plant operation," he said. "There is less to go wrong, and it is a more efficient and controlled process. You can control the level of carbon."
Other factors are playing into the attraction among steelmakers, according to an executive at Charlotte-based Midrex Technologies Inc.
"The steel industry is seeing renewed interest in DRI and (HBI), and it is not just the shale gas phenomena," Midrex director of marketing Henry O. Gaines Jr. said.
Gaines attributed that interest in part to environmental concerns. "We see this as an expanding market because by using HBI in the blast furnace, we are able to reduce the amount of coke that is used and also lower the amount of emissions that are being thrown," he said. "It is a clean technology."
Other technologies are now available that rely on coal instead of natural gas as the primary source of energy, Gaines said, noting that more breakthroughs are in the works and Midrex is working to use coke oven gas as part of the process for integrated steelmakers.