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Supporting the sustainability shift in the steel industry

From homes, hospitals and schools, to clean power, water and transportation, and beyond, steel is an essential element for modern life. It is therefore vital that steelmakers are supported in their sustainability journey with solutions that help to reduce the carbon intensity of the steelmaking process.

Supporting the sustainability shift in the steel industry

Steelmakers have a history of adopting practices to help reduce their environmental footprint. For example, steel is the world’s most recycled material with new steel products containing 30% recycled steel, on average.According to worldsteel.org, almost all of the industry’s co-products also have a beneficial use, whether it is using slag in cement, recuperating heat from process gasses or recovering metal oxides, such as iron oxides, nickel and zinc, from steelmaking dust.

Reducing the carbon emissions generated by steel production is the next step for steelmaking and it is a key part of the global transition to a low-carbon future. Industry stakeholders are well aware of this challenge, with regulators, investors and customers increasingly looking to the industry to cut its emissions.

A proactive partner for progress on sustainability

Imerys is already playing its part in finding solutions, working with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders to create a more efficient, less carbon-intensive steelmaking process.

This work embodies the proactive approach taken through the SustainAgility™ programme, which aims to minimize Imerys’ operational impact, while maximizing the benefits of its products. The goal is to catalyze change, not to hold it back. So, when customers come up against a challenge, Imerys will support them in finding the best solution.

Supporting steelmakers to decarbonize through thermal efficiency

Improving the thermal efficiency of a steelmaking process is one of the quickest and easiest ways to start reducing its associated carbon emissions. The equation is simple. Since higher thermal efficiency means more heat is retained in the process, total heat generation is lower than in less-efficient processes, where heat losses are higher. This lowers the amount of fuel burned and, with it, carbon emissions. 

High-quality refractories play a key role in ensuring thermal efficiency, and are an area in which Imerys is a strong partner to the steel industry through its High Temperature Solutions business area, and notably its Calderys products & brand. It is also an area in which the company has recently expanded its range of solutions to better serve its steelmaking customers’ needs.

The impact on sustainability of hydrogen in the refractory process

Steelmakers are also looking for more novel solutions to help them realize significant carbon emissions reductions, such as the use of hydrogen and natural gas. This includes both the injection of hydrogen into traditional blast furnaces to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, as well as hydrogen- and gas-based direct reduction of iron ore.

Both approaches, however, pose challenges to the refractory. The high diffusivity of hydrogen and its reaction with silica at high temperatures impact the physico-chemical properties and load-bearing capacity of standard refractories. To support the adoption of these technologies, Imerys has partnered with various research institutions to better understand the interaction of hydrogen with refractory materials at high temperatures and so provide even more adapted refractory solutions that enable progress toward decarbonization.

Imerys also recognizes that environmental sustainability must go hand in hand with affordability. The company continuously works with customers to define what is needed, from both a technical and economic standpoint, in order to provide solutions that bring both environmental and economic benefits.

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Calderys steelmaking process

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