Exclusive interview with ArcelorMittal's Dr Frederic Honnart on future challenges and opportunities in a transforming world

Ahead of his presentation at the Eurocoke Summit this April, we spoke to Dr Frederic Honnart, Coke Plant Expert at ArcelorMittal CTO to discuss future opportunities and challenges, the latest technological developments, significant shifts in the coke, coal and steel industry and much more.

Q. What will you be sharing as part of your opening keynote on 'Future opportunities and challenges in a transforming world'?

The world is transforming quite fast but the future has never been so uncertain as today. Economic crisis makes defining a business strategy quite volatile. Steelmaking, as well as many other economic activities, are in “survival mode”.

One key challenge is the ageing of the coke plants. Renewal of the coke plants is facing economic crisis and lack of political future; investing in coke plants is mandatory if we want to keep steel capacity but of course capital is critical.

Many coke plants also have batteries of the same generation (70’s & 80’s) and today the number of constructors is limited and project managers/lead users are also very few. Generally, in Europe, we face the problem of attracting young people to coke plants (technicians, engineers, etc.) and to prepare the future leaders.

The environmental impact and even more the health (public & employees) impact are both very important in the field of coke making with challenges faced because of Poly-aromatic Hydrocarbons, door emissions, waste water, zero effluent discharge, Volatile Organic Compounds, CO2 emissions and global warming.

The coke quality targets are set very high today for an economical cost of hot metal. After speaking (too much after my opinion) about CSR, the prices of coals are indexed with CSR...which is only measured on the coke made with that coal. After years of low cost of coal and reduction of the margins of the mines...the coking coal market is declining in quantity and in quality.

But there are opportunities.

The blast furnace route seems to be still the most economical method for producing iron, so we need to continue to develop this.

Also, as there are not many alternatives today, as well as ageing coke plants, the prolongation of service life is mandatory not only for insuring the coke production but also to deal with the lack of capital. That is an opportunity in the sense that the operators have the life of their coke plants in their hand; if they really appropriate the tool, take care of it by a good maintenance, pushing on time and cleaning the gas correctly etc.

Also, simple economic and financial calculation shows that maintenance and training are not expensive but very profitable investments when we look at the service life rather than the direct coke production and coke cost. Unfortunately the majority of coke makers and plant managers are looking in very short terms and lose the opportunity.

Research & development is one of the most important aspects of opportunity, however the fundamental research on coke making does not currently present new breakthroughs.

There is significant opportunity if we train and coach operators on all aspects of coke making, the poly-competencies (operation, process, maintenance). Leaders must be present and accessible on the field as the young people are more exigent and need strong reliable leaders.

Q. What technological developments do you feel would be effective and economical to answer some of the current challenges being faced in coke plants?

The repair methodologies with the improvement on ceramic powder quality, on fused silica modules, even on the quality of silica by most of the manufacturers can delay reconstruction. Today 100% mechanical pressed bricks are available in reputed manufacturers (in Europe, China, India). For the bracing, especially the wall protection plates, the cast iron metallurgy improved a lot and the best quality is available not only in Europe but also in China and India.

The repair of flues is a complex operation and is like a surgery.  How to define the scope of repair? Today endoscopy is the technology we use to inspect the flues in order to determine the scope or the quality of the repair, but we need specialists in coke plants and specialists in the repair & maintenance companies. Although today bricklaying with modular blocks is easier and faster, deconstruction of the old flues and the heating up are critical phases.

Pushing on time is a must. Standard deviation of coking time of 10 minutes is a target achieved only by a few of coke plants in the world. The automation of machines, monitoring all movements, process parameters etc are good tools to prevent machine failures. The PLCs and supervision systems, the digital elements of machines and the monitoring software are essential for the management of the reliability.

Coke plants are producing large quantities of gas consumed as a fuel. It is a shame to discard the biggest compound; hydrogen. Today many steel companies are contemplating the use of coke oven gas to reduce or pre-reduce iron; it is clearly reducing the CO2 footprint.

NOx emissions are an issue for many coke ovens.  Some mathematical & physical models today are able to indicate the trends and the distribution of the NOx in the flames. Today, coke oven constructors are able to develop the flue and the combustion design to minimise the NOx.

The development of high-tech chemical processes is able to make the by-product plant very efficient, environmentally compliant and safe.  Some coke plants in the world are even compliant to ‘zero effluent discharge’.

The visible emissions of coke ovens are a concern. Whatever the door technology, the systematic and effective cleaning of doors and frames is a must. The doors needs to be robust especially the sealing. Today, mechanical design, modern “intelligent” elements of machines, robotics, Global Positioning Systems are able to manage automatically the “moving” interface coke oven/oven machine.

The coke quality is a challenge especially for the big blast furnaces.  To level that challenge, we need to improve R&D in the field of coal quality, coke quality, coal selection, coal value in use and also answering the question what the economical optimum coke quality for a given blast furnace is. Coke plants that have access to pilot oven tests and industrial tests are the ones able to challenge the coal suppliers’ specifications and the blast furnace operators; why 67 CSR if the blast furnace is not operated / maintained effectively?

Q. What do you see as the most significant shifts in coal, coke and steel in the next 12-24 months?

It seems that internal steel demand of China is rising and they could restart idle blast furnaces so there will be less Chinese export, but more pressure on the coal, coke and iron prices.

The very hot weather in Australia could be balanced by more storms with consequences on open cut coal mining and transport.

Q. What are your most looking forward to at the Eurocoke Summit?

To share opinions and experiences.

Q. Why do you feel it’s important to be part of Eurocoke Summit 2017?

As a European coke maker I feel that the fact that the European Coke Committee disappeared makes the Eurocoke Summit 2017 a unique platform of exchange on technical and other topics.


Dr Honnart will be presenting the opening keynote at the Eurocoke Summit on Tuesday 25 April 2017. Join him and representatives from ThyssenKrupp, VDeh, POSCO, DMT, CRU and more at the Summit by booking your ticket now.

Book now