UMR research tackles U.S. steel shortage

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On August 10, 2004

In the wake of the recent steel shortage, researchers at UMR are exploring ways to make steel production in the United States quicker, cheaper and more efficient.

"We have about $1.8 million in research projects at UMR aimed toward producing steel more efficiently and rapidly, which could help alleviate some of the steel shortages that have been experienced in the last few years," says Dr. Kent Peaslee, associate professor of metallurgical engineering at UMR.

The U.S. steel industry is running at 90 percent capacity, which is as high as it has been in years, says Peaslee. UMR hopes to increase its productivity and efficiency through new processes and technologies.

In one project, Peaslee and his team of researchers are developing a new process that is completely continuous from start to finish, unlike current steelmaking processes. Scrap metal is first fed into a furnace, which then melts and discharges liquid steel to a series of treatment vessels. The vessel then treat and alloy — or mix — the steel before it is cast into solid steel shapes. The project is funded with $670,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy and several industry partners, including Nucor Steel, TXI-Chaparral Steel, SMI Steel, Gerdau Ameristeel and Bayou Steel.

"It’s not something that would solve all the shortage problems tomorrow. It’s more of the a long-range plan of improving it, and reducing costs enough that more steel would be made in America," says Peaslee.

Currently, steel is made in batches with raw materials added to a furnace where they are melted, mixed and refined before pouring the liquid steel into the ladle where it is degassed and processed further, says Peaslee. "Batch steelmaking produces excellent quality steel, but is not the optimum way of processing steel in terms of energy and productivity," he says.

Peaslee believes that the new process would be more productive, less expensive and easier to adjust production requirements. "Within two hours, scrap metal would be transformed to a product with the new process," says Peaslee. "Where today, batch treatment requires a series of steps with transportation of the batch to different locations." The researchers estimate the cost to build a new manufacturing plant using this process would be 50 percent cheaper than current plants.

Other researchers working on this project include: Dr. David Robertson, professor of metallurgical engineering at UMR; Dr. Von Richards, the Robert V. Wolf Professor of Metallurgical Engineering at UMR; Dr. Jeff Smith, associate professor of ceramic engineering at UMR; and Dr. Brian Thomas, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

UMR is also part of "a large national effort — funded by the DOE — to save energy in the metal-casting industry," says Peaslee. "Here at UMR, our goal is to help steel foundries reduce the amount of energy used during their melting and casting operations. This should make the U.S. steel-casting industry more productive and competitive, hopefully opening the doors for more steel castings to be produced in the United States rather than overseas."

Also working on this project are Richards and Smith.

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On August 10, 2004. Posted in Research