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British Steel's Bold Plan to Combat Emissions with Electric Furnaces

Via Metal Miner

British Steel recently told steel news sources of a £1.25 billion ($1.53 billion) project to replace its blast furnace operations with electric arc furnaces. The company said the goal was to help slash current carbon emissions.

"The proposals, which are subject to appropriate support from the UK Government, could see British Steel install two electric arc furnaces (EAFs) - the first at its headquarters in Scunthorpe, the second at its manufacturing site in Teesside," the Chinese-owned company said in a November 6 announcement.

British Steel added that the new furnaces could start operating as early as 2025.

Both Facilities Boast Impressive Capacities

Scunthorpe is about 170 miles north of London, while British Steel's Teesside beam rolling plant is in northern England. Despite MetalMiner's requests for information, it remains unclear what the electric arc furnaces' potential capacities would be and who would supply the equipment.

Scunthorpe currently has four blast furnaces: Mary, Bess, Anne, and Victoria. Together, they can produce up to 4.7 million metric tons of pig iron per year. The plant then converts that to crude steel billets and slabs via three 330-metric-ton basic oxygen furnaces.

The listed crude steel capacity is 4.5 million metric tons per year. However, more recent sources indicate that the plant produces closer to 3.2 million metric tons. Meanwhile, Scunthorpe can roll construction steels, rails, special profiles, and wire rod from the billets cast on-site

The Teesside Works also had integrated steelmaking, though it stopped and demolished that equipment between 2015 and 2022. The site had one blast furnace that could produce 3.7 million metric tons of pig iron and three 260-metric ton BOFs capable of pouring 3.9 million metric tons of crude annually.

In the past, industry watchers predicted that European mills would trend toward converting their steelmaking operations from blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces. The primary basis for the prediction was European legislation aimed at cutting carbon emissions.

Unions Take Umbrage as Steel News Reports Estimate Job Losses

Unions associated with British Steel have expressed their concerns about the plans. Indeed, some steel news outlets recently reported that the conversions could result in up to 2,000 job losses, mostly at the Scunthorpe site. Current estimates place the number of staff working there at approximately 3,200.

"British Steel must halt these plans and get around the table with unions," said Paul Nowak, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), in a November 6 statement. "Closing down the blast furnaces at the Scunthorpe plant would have a devastating impact on staff and the local community."

Multiple Unions and Communities Concerned Over British Steel

The TUC is a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, representing most unions in those two countries. Nowak also hinted at possible action by unions. "Workers won't stand back and watch as Britain's steel industry is dismantled in real time," he noted.

London-based union community also expressed its concerns over the BF closures. "Community has continually highlighted how an EAF-only approach is the wrong solution to decarbonizing the steel industry," Community General Secretary Roy Rickhuss stated, also on November 6.

"Such an approach would require the import of virgin steel to supplement scrap steel used in furnaces - meaning that carbon emissions would be exported to heavy-polluting countries and the industry would no longer be self-sufficient in the UK," Rickhuss added.

By Christopher Rivituso

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