Trinidad and Tobago , Costa Rica , Brazil and Argentina

Turning steelmaking waste into value through reuse

Bnamericas Published: Friday, March 06, 2009

Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, has made sustainability a priority at its plants worldwide.

In Brazil, the company’s long steel subsidiary based in Minas Gerais state has invested US$17.5mn in sustainability projects in the past two years, of which US$11.8mn was just for 2008.

Among the group’s undertakings, it has carried out developments in byproducts that reutilize steelmaking waste in order to reinsert the substances into the steel production process as a way to cut down on raw materials.

ArcelorMittal in Brazil also has an ambitious water reuse program.

In this interview, BNamericas talks to José Otávio de Andrade Franco, the environmental manager of the company's long steel division in South and Central America, to peek into the details of ArcelorMittal's projects in Brazil. 

BNamericas: Tell us about ArcelorMittal's recycling practices in Brazil involving the reutilization of steelmaking residues and, at the same time, rationing consumption of natural resources.

Franco: For a number of years, ArcelorMittal has demonstrated its concern with residue management. And within our policy of recycling and directing residues to landfills for processing, the team at the company’s Monlevade unit in Minas Gerais has been seeking alternatives and solutions for residues, which in our case we call byproducts.

In previous years, the company made serious investments in environmental technologies. We have been developing projects for three years. Just recently we made 600,000 reais [US$250,000] in investments.

BNamericas: Tell us a bit about the process and its results.

Franco: Basically, we feed the mill with iron ore fines, coke fines, scales and lime fines, which allows us to transform 5,000t/m of residues into raw materials that generate 3,500t/m of sinter that is then used in the first step of the steelmaking process.

This process has a significant cost because we have to carry out the waterproofing process, the monitoring of the water, so the smaller the amount we send to landfills the lower the cost.

BNamericas: Tell us about the reduction of stocks in landfills.

Franco: We are trying to reduce stocks in this process. We recycle the 5,000t/m of residue so we can minimize the amount we send to landfills. The smaller the amount of residues we send to landfills the better.

This project has allowed ArcelorMittal Monlevade to diminish the 50kg target of non-recoverable residue per ton of crude steel to 12kg/t currently.

About five years ago Monlevade's non-recoverable residues were at almost 60kg. We then developed a plan by analyzing process by process to avoid dumping excessive amounts in company landfills because dumping large amounts triggers elevated costs for the company.

BNamericas: And how do you diminish these levels?

Franco: The company has a licensed area which is the industrial landfill. In this landfill one has to have an environmental permit and there we built what we call impermeable cells. We have to waterproof and place these residues inside the cells. After we fill each of the cells we have to manage and monitor soil water. So there is a tremendous amount of spending involved with managing new landfill areas.

BNamericas: Is the João Monlevade recycling project pioneering this field of research at ArcelorMittal in Brazil?

Franco: For the long steel division, yes. But ArcelorMittal Tubarão, our flat steels sister company, is the pioneer in Brazil. That division has a residue management method that I consider an example to follow in the steelmaking business.

But the processes in that division are practically the same. There are not that many differences. In the past, unfortunately, the company didn't have a budget to take into consideration the environment as much or for a byproducts division. But this has changed.

We have made proposals to the board in Europe for investments based on the revenues from the sale of these byproducts, which have been accepted and approved.

An example is the blast furnace residue we sell to the cement industry. Today 15% of slag revenues go to the development of byproducts. Revenues of byproducts in Argentina, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago add up to US$38mn, and in Brazil 122mn reais.

BNamericas: Are there other projects in Brazil?

Franco: We have been using slag sale revenues to fund a project at the group's Piracicaba unit in São Paulo state to be used as a resource for recycling electric furnace residue, which is a major issue in semi-integrated plants.

We are also developing a project with a partner called Metal Flex. This is a sub-industrial scale endeavor and so far results have been encouraging. This will involve recycling of powder from electric furnaces mixed with scale and furnace slag. The powder is the main problem in semi-integrated plants. This process generates a product called pre-smelter agglomerates. This agglomerated product then returns to the electric furnace allowing for a greater zinc content in the powder.

When the zinc concentrates reach a content level of 25% they become economically viable for sending to some of our companies which can benefit from the zinc, a metal with significant value in the market.

BNamericas: Can you name some of the clients that buy your byproducts?

Franco: Our clients come mostly from the cement industry. They use slag to produce cement, concrete structures, to make asphalt, to recoat roads, build homes and make roadblocks. Slag can be also used in the agriculture sector as a fertilizer.

BNamericas: Tell us about your record year in sales of byproducts in 2008 and your expectations for 2009.

Franco: The company's byproducts division grossed US$37.2mn last year. In 2009 we don't yet have an adequate forecast due to the financial crisis. But we are aiming to at least guarantee the same results that we had in 2007 of US$25.7mn, which ended up being a fine year for us.

BNamericas: How is ArcelorMittal's water recycling project performing?

Franco: In this project we have been able to average a 98.8% rate of water recirculation at our long steel division. In fact, the ArcelorMittal Juiz de Fora operation, along with the Piracicaba plant in São Paulo, became a benchmark example for all of the ArcelorMittal group.

After the implementation of this project, the plant began consuming 2.17m3 of water for each ton of crude steel, compared to 4.10m3/t before, which has made it a very interesting undertaking.

In Juiz de Fora, treatment and recycling of sewage also takes place. The group is also developing a rainwater collection program in two units: the Belgo Bekaert wires division in Hortolândia, in São Paulo, and the Belgo Bekaert wires branch in Contagem, in Minas Gerais. This process creates great savings because we buy less from water providers. Our project also helps communities since we avoid the accumulation of water that causes flooding.

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