What is steel?
Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon containing less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and small amounts of silicon, phosphorus, sulphur and oxygen. Steel is the world’s most important engineering and construction material. It is used in every aspect of our lives; in cars and construction products, refrigerators and washing machines, cargo ships and surgical scalpels.
How is steel made?
Steel is produced via two main ways: the blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) way and electric arc furnace (EAF) way. Variations and combinations of production vs also exist.
The key difference between the ways is the type of raw materials they consume. For the BF-BOF way these are predominantly iron ore, coal, and recycled steel, while the EAF way produces steel using mainly recycled steel and electricity. Depending on the plant configuration and availability of recycled steel, other sources of metallic iron such as direct-reduced iron (DRI) or hot metal can also be used in the EAF way.
About 75% of steel is produced using the BF-BOF way. First, iron ores are reduced to iron, also called hot metal or pig iron. Then the iron is converted to steel in the BOF. After casting and rolling, the steel is delivered as coil, plate, sections or bars.
Steel made in an EAF uses electricity to melt recycled steel. Additives, such as alloys, are used to adjust to the desired chemical composition. Electrical energy can be supplemented with oxygen injected into the EAF. Downstream process stages, such as casting, reheating and rolling, are similar to those found in the BF-BOF way. About 25% of steel is produced via the EAF way.
Another steelmaking technology, the open hearth furnace (OHF), makes up about 0.4% of global steel production. The OHF process is very energy intensive and is in decline owing to its environmental and economic disadvantages.
Most steel products remain in use for decades before they can be recycled. Therefore, there is not enough recycled steel to meet growing demand using the EAF steelmaking method alone. Demand is met through a combined use of the BF-BOF and EAF production methods. All of these production methods can use recycled steel scrap as an input. Most new steel contains recycled steel.
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