HIsarna holds big hope for green, low-cost iron making: Tata Steel

The HIsarna iron making technology being developed jointly by a consortium of steelmakers in Europe led by Tata Steel, holds prospects of not only being a major green technology but also promises 25% savings in terms of capital expenditure (capex) and operational expenditure (opex).

The technology, which has steel makers ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe, ArcelorMittal and Salzgitter on board, is based on a cyclone reactor, patented by Tata Steel Europe, for melting iron ore, which combines beneath to a HI-smelt (bath smelter) developed by Rio Tinto in Australia.

"The technology when implemented would see huge capex and opex reductions, as the process does not have coke and sinter making but uses 100% oxygen, which is an additional cost," UK-based Tata Steel group director, Research & Development (R&D) Debashish Bhattacharjee told FE.

From the previous stage of hot trials where the process was tried out continuously for three-four days at 8 tonne per hour capacity, the project has now reached stage-two trial, where it would see continuous operations for a week, with the entire second-stage trials slated to go on for the next two months. "It is one of the technologies that looks feasible today as a green iron making process like Finex, which of course is much more costlier and complex process than HIsarna promises to be," added Bhattacharjee.

All trials are being carried out at Tata Steel Europe's IJmuiden works in The Netherlands. "Depending on the trial results, we will decide on upscaling it", said the Tata Steel group R&D director, adding the third and final third set of trial has been scheduled for the middle of next year (2013).

On the basis of results of the 2013 trials, the project would be upscaled to the semi-commercial 60 tonne per day stage in three years from now, as all equipment would need to be designed to order. The HIsarna process, unlike the most commonly followed blast furnace route of iron making, which requires coke, sinter and iron ore pellets as inputs, uses iron ore fines, non-coking coal fines, some flux and pure oxygen as inputs.

The process promises use of high-phosphorous iron ore which the blast furnace route cannot use, as phosphorous gets into steel making and thereafter into products. The new process also results in almost 100% carbon dioxide formation as the reaction rate is very high. Also, the off-gas, rich in carbon dioxide, can, unlike in the blast furnace process, be captured.

"The process holds a 20% carbon dioxide reduction possibility straightaway (compared with present-day BF process) and if be captured and sequestered, the CO2 reduction can go up to 80%," Bhattacharjee said. While oxygen is charged from above, the reduction reaction takes place in the cyclone reactor where haematite is first reduced to ferrous oxide and sent down to the bath, where, in the dripping slag, coal and oxygen are charged directly, to reduce the ferrous oxide to iron, with the slag being allowed to pass down. So confident are consortium partners about HIsarna's commercial prospect that apart from agreeing to patent rights over equipments going into the process, they have also already entered into a pact over its commercialisation rights.

"We have unlimited rights within Tata Steel, so we can put up a plant wherever we want within our geographies; similarly, if we want to sell the technology in other geographies there are number restrictions for the parties to the agreement", said the Tata Steel group director, R&D.

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