Dr. Ron O’Malley in Missouri S&T’s foundry lab.

Steel yourself: Sensors reduce steelmaking energy consumption

Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers are using fiber optic sensors to save energy and lower costs of steel production. 

About 70% of U.S.-made steel is produced via an electric arc furnace, a more energy-efficient method than smelting. Even so, EAF energy efficiency varies depending on numerous factors and conditions. 

“These are high-productivity units that can produce 170 tons of steel in 30 to 40 minutes,” Ronald O’Malley, principal project investigator and Missouri S&T professor, said in a news release. “That takes very high energy input, and you have to protect the furnace from damage under these conditions.”

The fiber optic sensors detect hotspots as they form. The data can be used to activate a system that directs chemical energy from carbon and oxygen and prompts the production of slag foam, a material that can cover the electric arc and shield the furnace side walls and roof from arc radiation.

The dynamic control system can adapt manufacturing operations to account for material differences between virgin ore and scrap metals. This saves energy, lowers costs, and increases yields.

“What’s exciting about this work is that these fiber optic systems traditionally have not been used in this kind of environment,” O’Malley said. “We’re actually tailoring several types of fiber optic technologies for specific applications in different parts of the EAF.” 

Demonstration testing on this innovation will take place at steel companies Big River Steel and Commercial Metals Co. Other project partners include steel producers Gerdau and Nucor and gas and tech provider Linde.

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