How hydrogen, electric arc furnaces, and energy play a role in sustainable refractories

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Refractories, as used today, have not reached their full potential from a sustainability standpoint. When considering their use in highly energy-intensive industries, like cement (where production accounts for nearly 7 percent of global CO₂ emissions) and steel (where production accounts for nearly 8 percent of CO₂ emissions), the time for change is now.

Read on to uncover how sustainability trends like green hydrogen, electric arc furnaces (EAF), and energy efficiency are playing a role in steel and cement production.

Green hydrogen

The introduction of green hydrogen technology in metallurgy and cement products has been happening for some time. Many companies around the globe are introducing it as an alternative to gas, coal, and waste as a greener approach to their production. This switch plays an increasingly important role, as both the steel and cement industries represent together roughly 15 percent of the world's carbon emissions.

For this switch to happen, refractory formulations will need to be completely redesigned to withstand higher temperatures and corrosion that come with the use of hydrogen. Where the industry is still behind is the topic of price point. Today, hydrogen is about €4/kilo. That price needs to drop to €1/kilo to be competitive and advantageous.

But when we are successful, we are less reliant on natural gas sources, and we can instead rely on energy generated from wind farms and solar panels to produce hydrogen. This approach to creating hydrogen is more sustainable and a key to the net zero emission goals set around the globe.

Electric arc furnaces (EAF)

The old-fashioned blast furnace process (BOF) is being left behind as new approaches with electric arc furnaces (EAF) can be used with hydrogen, ultimately reducing emissions. EAFs require far less energy and the energy generated as part of their operations can be recycled and reused again, playing nicely into the bigger picture of the circular economy.

ArcelorMittal, for example, is investing €1 billion in Spain into making this change, putting them on track to be one of the few full-scale steel plants to achieve zero carbon emissions in the world.

As a result of EAFs, production will require less refractory product per ton of steel because the materials will be of higher quality and therefore have higher performance as compared to those used in traditional BOF.

Energy efficiency

After the 2022 summer spike in energy prices, and with projections for energy to be an average of 46 percent higher in 2023 than in past years, refractories need to prioritize formulations for energy efficiency.

Energy-intensive industries, like steel and cement, are turning their focus to insulation materials because of the critical role they can also play in cost savings. One trend we see every day is the use of modern solutions, like ultralightweight castable to reduce energy and cut the dissipation of the heat of the kilns.

Additionally, a key to energy efficiency is to enhance the performance and durability of products to make them last longer. This will not only extend the life of the refractory, but also reduce the number of maintenance stops, ultimately saving time, resources, and energy by not needing to shut down production.

With looming net-zero goals for companies around the globe, these sustainability trends are already becoming a key part of refractory production. But what is next? Check out our latest whitepaper on energy reduction uncovering the trends, challenges and future of refractory production.
Adrian Garcia

Market Manager, Business Development Manager
Industrial Solutions

About the author

Adrian Garcia is a Market Manager in IMCD Spain and the Business Development Manager for Industrial Solutions. As a refractory expert, he has worked 8+ years with customers in Spain and around Europe to develop innovative formulations that save time, money, and resources.

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