The challenge | Ever stricter legal requirements
The process | Developing solutions with customers
The advantage | Solutions for electronic scrap recycling
The vision | CO2-free production of metals
Dr.-Ing. Christian Fröhling, Vice President,
Metallurgical Plants and Environmental Technology
Sustainability has become a hot topic. During the economic miracle of the 50s and 60s, people did not think much about pollution or the finite nature of resources. However, by the end of the 60s, the consequences of this attitude were evident.
Ever since then, environmental protection and combating climate change have been major objectives that influence what we do as individuals, but also as businesses. The energy transition, e-mobility, organic foods – our daily habits are changing. Species protection and cleaning up the oceans are becoming increasingly important issues. More and more companies have adopted the principle of resource-efficient and sustainable operations. That is because one thing is clear: Only sustainable companies are competitive in the long term.
In many projects, SMS group is confronted with sustainability aspects that cover the entire range of eco-technologies. Everything from cutting energy consumption, through the utilization of byproducts (e.g., gas), up to avoiding emissions such as fine dust. Dr. Christian Fröhling, Vice President, Metallurgical Plants and Environmental Technology, knows all about the challenges:
“There are statutory requirements that can be completely different in different countries or even regions. For each customer, we develop and build solutions that go even beyond these – sometimes very strict – requirements.”
At first glance, investments in eco-technology often do not offer an economic added value, as in the case of installing a filter system for example. That is why legal requirements play a decisive role.
• Electronic scrap recycling
• Add-on products such as gas recovery plants
• Hydrogen route as an alternative to the conventional blast furnace route
• Digitalized production
“In cases like this, we also point out to customers what the benefits of these investments are – i.e., cutting operating costs.”
Modernizations are also a major factor for sustainability. “SMS group offers both small ‘tuning kits’ as well as full-scale core upgrades. However, such major revamps can be very costly. When it comes to new plants, things are easier because the whole facility is designed from scratch. For modernizations, we have to adapt to the existing situation. That comes with more risk because you don’t know in advance what might be hidden,” explains Fröhling. Yet every modernization also offers the opportunity not only to improve consumption values by, e.g., optimizing pump or fan power, but also to significantly increase production efficiency.
Steel already ticks a lot of boxes as a sustainable material. After use, it is melted down and reused – making it an excellent recycling material. Today, steel is already the world’s number-one recycled material. The situation looks different for e-waste. This burgeoning market is of central importance for SMS group, also in terms of preventing incorrect disposal.
“We offer a process named UrbanGold for recycling electronic scrap. It extracts valuable, high-purity metals such as gold, platinum, palladium, copper, and nickel from electronic scrap at a rate of almost 100 percent. The plant design is also extremely attractive economically,” says Fröhling. He is convinced of the importance of this kind of process.
At SMS group, sustainability is directly linked with the megatrend of connectivity. Fröhling explains: “Data is also collected to optimize sustainability processes such as gas recovery and filter technologies and to reduce overall energy consumption in the steel mill.” Intelligent data analysis can optimize charge materials in a smelting furnace or adjust temperature controls so that less furnace power is needed.
“I believe sustainability processes are an integral and relevant part of the increasingly important digitalization trend.”
Another central aspect is reducing CO2 emissions in steel production. Fröhling explains: “More and more customers want us to supply solutions for steel production with a massively reduced carbon footprint.”
SMS group has defined CO2-free steel production as a strategic development area. The company is expending considerable resources so it can offer its customers solutions that will reduce specific emissions per ton of steel down to 0. “We are conscious that our plants have an enormous influence on global steel production and that we have a responsibility to promote sustainability in this area,” says Fröhling. This shows once again that SMS group keeps an eye on the big picture.
Sustainability is not a new topic at SMS. For decades, the company has been cooperating with customers to research and develop innovations for more energy efficiency. This is exemplified by the Ecoplants label, which is awarded by an internal committee to plants that reduce emissions, increase the recycling quota, or cut energy consumption. Here is how Fröhling sums up the focus in this area:
“Our top priority is that our customers benefit both ecologically and economically.”
SERVICES FOR SUSTAINABLE PLANTS
SMS group Technical Service has a clear goal: maintaining the value of existing plants. When it comes to spare parts, tailor-made maintenance, or special training offers for customer personnel, our customers benefit from high-performance service packages, which are available at 50 locations worldwide. SMS group is a lifelong partner for the entire metallurgical process chain.
“SMS group is the only plant constructor in metallurgy that covers the entire process chain. Our successful service is especially important in repair and modernization projects.”
Johannes Kahlen, Vice President, Technical Service
“We want to play a leading role in carbon-free steelmaking.”
Dr.-Ing. Thomas Hansmann, Managing Director, Paul Wurth Italia (left) and Georges Rassel, CEO, Paul Wurth
Photo: Mike Zenari
Paul Wurth group develops the right solutions and technologies to ensure cost-effective and simultaneously eco-friendly operation of our plants. This involves three core objectives: increasing plant efficiency through process optimization, recycling byproducts such as sludges and dusts, and minimizing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Key here is using nonfossil reduction agents.
“The production of CO2-free steel would send an incredibly strong signal to the steel industry.”
The megatrend sustainability demands change, and that’s why German steel producers want to eliminate carbon by 2050. The only alternative in sight today is the hydrogen route. Instead of coke, hydrogen is used as the reducing agent. The technology is based on hydrogen production by electrolysis. Electricity is used to separate hydrogen into its two components oxygen and water. Because electricity replaces carbon as the energy source, the hydrogen route is very energy-intensive.
Therefore, steel producers must decide whether they want to produce cheaply or with low emissions. Changing to low-emission production certainly has advantages: Supplying steel produced CO2-free would send a strong signal to the steel industry. The task now is to develop and provide the corresponding technology. What is necessary here are electrolyzers to generate hydrogen, electric-arc furnaces to produce the steel, and direct reduction plants that operate with pure hydrogen.
With the investment from Paul Wurth S.A., Sunfire GmbH will from 2019 implement commercial multimegawatt major projects using high-temperature electrolysis and power-to-liquid technology. For Paul Wurth, partnering with the technology leader in high-temperature electrolysis represents an important step toward technology innovations that will lead to green steelmaking. It also opens up the opportunity to enter the growing market for e-fuels.
Incidentally, the latest high-temperature electrolysis product can reactivate not only water, but also CO2. This means the exhaust gas from combustion can be converted directly into a clean raw material that can replace oil or natural gas. Paul Wurth aims to play a leading role in the upcoming transformation of the steel industry toward CO2-free steel production. Supporting customers in their changeover to hydrogen-based pig iron production will help them meet their climate protection goals.