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ArcelorMittal: Recent Advancements in Coal and Coke Technology

Smithers Apex: What are the most important technological advancements in coal and metallurgical coke that will affect the industry?

Marcelo Andrade: Let me begin by saying that cokemaking is a mature technology and, in recent history, there have not been any breakthroughs that resulted in development of new technologies.  Process improvements to existing technologies, however, were implemented to mitigate environmental impacts, including the development of improved combustion systems to minimize NOx emissions, the use of larger scale coke ovens, and the use of more efficient oven pressure control systems and door sealing systems.  Another area that has been evolving rapidly is simplified oven repair technologies.  Since there is a reduced ability for permitting greenfield batteries in many parts of the world, the emphasis has moved to improved methodologies for battery repair to ensure that aging coke oven assets remain operational. 

In terms of alternative technologies, the US has experienced growth in heat recovery capacity in the last 30-40 years.  In Japan, two 1 million-ton Scope-21 coke oven facilities have been recently built, ushering in the most recent industrially cokemaking technology available.  Through the years there have been many attempts to develop a “form-coke” (pre-shaped) process with many claims, the most important of which were the ability to produce high quality coke from large percentages of non-coking coals, improved permeability in the blast furnace, and flexible shut-down and start-up.  Unfortunately, even though some of these processes showed merit during the pilot scale testing, all processes failed to deliver promised expectations when scaled up to commercial production units. 

With the development and availability of new analytical equipment for analysis of the coke structure, as well as the interaction of coke and slag, more emphasis is being focused on these areas of study.  The coal quality requirements necessary to achieve very high coal injection rates and maximum blast furnace productivity severely limits the number of coals alternatives.  These stringent requirements require additional R&D work in the area of coke structure and possible methodologies such as equipment changes, process changes, or use of coke additives to produce a “super coke” product.

Smithers Apex: How is the industry facing the current competitors in the global market?

Marcelo Andrade: In the short to medium term, China will continue to be the key driver in the definition of steel and coal markets, specifically, how will China decide to balance overcapacity against employment.  The increased economic activity in the US and Europe may play a secondary role in supporting the market.

In the short term, the materialization or not of the US infrastructure bill, as well as final resolution on Section 232, may significantly impact steel pricing and production levels and investment capacity in the US. It is vital to the industry that, while working in a free market economy, we level the playing field to preserve the high paying middle class manufacturing jobs.

Looking at a longer-range view, the competition landscape is much more complex. Continued tightening of environmental constraints, as well as political resistance in obtaining operational licenses in certain geographic areas, will continue to change the percentage of steel that will be produced by fully integrated steel mills as well as the ability of alternative routes (e.g. EAF) to produce high value added products.Finally, the competition by alternative materials to replace steel in high value-added products, as well as disruptive changes rapidly assimilated by the society e.g., “shared economy” could significant affect the steel demand in certain sectors.

To face these challenges, the industry will certainly need to focus on asset optimization, cost competitive productivity from existing assets, and, finally, industry consolidation.  Of significant importance, however, is the requirement for successful implementation of new innovations and the ability to protect this Intellectual property.

Advances in material science are evolving at a lightning pace and steel is no exception.  Our ability to innovate and execute faster than the competition will define our leadership role in the future. We have fierce competition in southeast Asia one that is significantly investing in R&D, education and brand new assets

Smithers Apex: What are the best practices to assimilate with competitive coke making technologies in the industry? 

Marcelo Andrade: We need to continue to drive towards “operational excellence” so that we can produce the highest quality product at the lowest possible cost.  In addition, we need to successfully implement innovations required to reduce our environmental footprint. 

Smithers Apex: What are you looking forward to hearing during the Met Coke World Summit 2017?

Marcelo Andrade: I hope to obtain a better insight on the global market as well as the impact of delays in some of the proposed initiatives of our new administration on the US market.  As always, I look forward to networking with key people in the business.