While the long-term impact of the recent steel tariffs is unknown, we here at GCES recognize that there will be an impact on nearly every company we do business with. With so much confusion, and bias, around this hot topic, we created the below article to help break it down a little.
What is steel?
Carbon steel, which accounts for 90% of all steel production, is an alloy that occurs when iron is combined with carbon. It also contains small quantities of silicon, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen. The iron that makes steel is the 4th most abundant element, making up about 5% of the earth’s crust. It is removed from crust in the form of an ore; the iron is then extracted from the ore by a process known as smelting. Smelting, simply put, happens when you apply heat to an ore, to extract the base metal. Once the smelted iron is combined with carbon, steel is formed. Although steel is made of predominantly iron, it contains 0.03% and 1,075% (depending on grade) carbon, which alone, iron does not. This addition of carbon improves the physical chemical properties of the iron, making it a desirable metal. On top of the physical properties that make steel so versatile, and desirable, it is also considered to be infinitely recyclable. This means it can be melted down, and reused, as many times as needed, without limit.
Because of its high strength, and relatively low cost, steel is one of the most sought after building materials in the world. Used to make everything from weapons, infrastructure, and buildings, to home appliances and automobiles, the steel industry is expected to reach $1.01 trillion in revenue by 2025.
The US Steel industry:
Because of it’s strength, cost, and ease of acquisition, steel is used in a number of applications. The main sectors that rely on steel for production in the U.S. are:
- Where the steel industry gets a lot of media attention in the United States is the energy industry. Steel is used in just about every facet of energy production and transport, and the cost of steel plays a major role in the cost of energy, because of this. Steel is used in the production or transportation of oil and gas wells and platforms, electricity power turbines, transformer cores, pipelines, and wind turbines.
- Most steel in the U.S. goes to the construction industry. Steel structures can be built quickly, making for low material acquisition and labor costs. Because of it’s flexibility as a building material, it can be used in a wide variety of unique building applications, and is able to hold up in the harshest of conditions, including: environmental, those with chemical exposures, weight bearing, etc.
- Steel packaging protects goods from a variety of potentially detrimental outside elements: weather, hard chemicals, light exposure, etc. Furthermore, steel packaging is fully recyclable, making it an attractive option to anyone looking to save money, and/or reduce their carbon footprint. Light weight, and easy to open, packaging made with steel allows for a swift and easy filling process. Most steel packaging is used in the food and beverage container production industry, with general line, bottle/can closing, and aerosol following close behind, in use.
- Transportation – Automotive, air and space, rail
- Did you know that more than half of the weight of a car is steel? Vehicle production relies on advanced high-strength steels (AHSS), because it requires less energy to produce, and produces less CO2. Variations of steel are used to produce many different modes of transportation, including trucks, trains, railways and cars, ships, and aircraft components.
- Appliance production
- The average household appliance is comprised 75% of steel. Steel is also found in cutlery, tools, swing sets, and many other commonly used modern day amenities.
What VOCs, Acid Gases, and Particulate are produced by the steel industry?
The manufacturing process for items made of steel produces many harmful Volatile organic compounds, such as:
- Hydrogen Sulfide
- Carbon Dioxide
- Manganese compounds
- Hydrochloric acid
- Zinc fume
- Zinc dust
- Sulfuric Acid
- Cyanide compounds
These compounds are linked to a significant number of negative effects on not only the environment, but also human health. Asthma, diabetes, heart disease, increased risks of certain cancers, vision issues, fetal abnormalities, premature births, etc.
Why is the Topic of Steel currently so popular in the media?
Compared to other countries, the United States of America is the world’s largest importer of steel. In 2017, alone, the US imported about 36-million metric tons of steel. During that same year, the United States only domestically produced 10-million metric tons. China, being the world’s largest producer and exporter of steel, also serves as the United States’ #1 trade partner… but not in steel. China only comprises of about 4% of all steel imports in the United States; the U.S.’s highest import partner is Canada.
Steel imports in the United States have recently become a trending topic in the media, business strategy sessions, dinner parties, political events, etc. due to the current administration’s new steel tariffs. On June 1, 2018, American president Donald J. Trump imposed a 25% tax on imports of steel. The perceived goal of this trade is to encourage an increase in the use of domestically sourced steel. This steel tariff, along with the addition of tariffs on aluminum, washing machines, and solar panels, are estimated to encompass 4.1% of all U.S. imports. Since President Trump announced his intentions of imposing these tariffs in March of 2018, South Korea, Australian, Brazil, and Argentina have been granted permanent exemptions from the steel tariffs.
Though tariffs on steel are nothing new for the United States, this administration’s tariffs have garnered quite a bit of attention. Leading economists differ greatly in their predictions in what this will do for the steel industry, both globally, and in the United States. There is a clear divide in believed potential economic outcomes of these tariffs. Many believe that the price of steel will increase significantly for US consumers, and people working in factories in industries that use steel will suffer, with estimated job losses around 186,000. However, it is also widely believed that these tariffs will, in fact, help the steel and aluminum production sector. Smaller and midsize steel production companies may struggle more, because they rely more heavily on foreign imports, than larger steel companies. Many steel companies, foreign and domestic, have announced the opening or reopening of plants around the continental U.S, which has only added to the overwhelming speculation of outcome by the media.
The biggest risk associated with the Trump administration’s new import tariffs, is the possibility of trade war with the United States’ closest trade partners. A few countries, including Canada and China, have already imposed what are being called retaliatory tariffs on exports going into the United States, and their leaders have been outspoken in their displeasure with the tariffs. However, President Trump, along with many economists, believe these tariffs will only strengthen the US economy, and encourage domestic and international manufacturers to open new plants in the United States, which creates new jobs, and internal tax revenue. Only time will tell which outcome is correct…
What interest does a pollution control solutions company like GCES have in the steel industry?
GCES first entered the steel industry in 2005, providing a cost effective pollution control system, including a CO2 desorption model, for a direct reduction plant. Since that time our thermal oxidizer systems have been implemented to provide pollution control solutions in dozens of steel production facilities across the globe and continue to operate with efficiency and effectiveness.
Direct reduction (DR) technologies to improve steelmaking efficiencies have been continually advancing since the 1960s. In producing direct reduced iron (DRI), carbon dioxide (CO2) is released as an off-gas to the process. Many steel plants worldwide have been upgrading their DR process to include a CO2 desorption module. CO2 desorption models are used to recapture the CO2 which is then used in oilfields or bottling operations developing additional profit lines for the steel production facilities. Through the CO2 capturing operation, pollutants and green-house gases (GHGs) must be treated before being released into the atmosphere.
Direct-reduced iron, often referred to as sponge iron, is produced from the direct reduction of iron ore by reducing gas. The term reduced iron comes from the chemical change that iron ore goes through when it is heated in a furnace at high temperatures in the occurrence of hydrogen-rich gasses. Direct-reduction is the processes which reduce iron oxides into metallic iron to below the melting point. The product of this process is direct reduced iron. The reducing gas is a mixture of gasses, primarily hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO).
We were initially chosen for the steel project in 2005 to provide a Thermal Oxidizer system (TO) for treatment of the pollutants and GHG emissions, by one of the leading engineering, design, and builders of industrial gas plants, in the world. After much research and discussion around CO2 desorption technology, the decision was made to switch from a thermal oxidizer, to a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) to improve fuel efficiencies, and NOX production versus a standard direct-fired TO. This was the 1st worldwide application of an RTO in a Direct Reduction Plant. As a result, many parameters were carefull considered by GCES, the engineering firm, and the customer, to properly design the RTO system. Extensive engineering and design considerations included:
- Potential high pressure conditions resulted in the use of a cylindrical rather than rectangular design.
- The correct heat recovery efficiency had to be calculated to maintain outlet temperatures above the condensation levels of post-combustion by-products.
- Stainless steel was selected for resistance to the potential formation of sulfuric acid.
This first desorption RTO system was successfully installed and commissioned in 2006. As the complete CO2 process became more defined, GCES worked with the original technology provider to improve and supply another system for a plant expansion. Directly after the original purchase of our GCES 3 canister RTO in 2005 two additional RTO systems were provided for another Steel Maker in the Middle East. With these three systems operating with efficiency and effectiveness our solution was proven. This has opened the door for many additional applications across the globe.
Another method of abatement used in this industry is a scrubber. Packed, dry and wet scrubbers are used to treat or clean the following lists of chemicals from a process exhaust air stream, with ammonia being the most popular:
- Hydrochloric Acid
- Chlorinated Silanes
- Sulfur Dioxide
- Hydrogen Sulfide
- Boron Trifluoride
Wet scrubbers are designed to remove pollutants from a gaseous stream with a scrubbing liquid. In a single-stage, vertical packed scrubber, the tower contains randomly dispersed packing to improve contact between the gas and liquid phases. The polluted stream flows upwards through the bottom of the packed tower counter currently to the flow of a scrubbing liquid. The cleaned gas then passes through a mist eliminator to remove any entrained liquids.
Baghouses would be another option for the steel industry. With a baghouse, each compartment is equipped with pulse valves that supplies compressed air that direct pulsing air into the blowpipes above the bag rows in the compartment. During the cleaning cycle the inlet and outlet pneumatic damper closes, stopping the air flow through the compartment. The pulse valve opens for about 0.1 second, supplying a burst of air into the bags for cleaning. The compartment remains off-line for approximately 30 seconds, although this time period can be longer or shorter if desired. The inlet & outlet pneumatic damper then automatically reopens, bringing the compartment back on stream (or known as “on-line”). Alternate compartments are cleaned successively until all the bags in the baghouse have been cleaned. The cleaning cycle in each compartment lasts about 40 to 120 seconds. This cleaning is called off-line cleaning. It is frequently used on fabric filters installed on coal-fired boilers and municipal waste incinerators, allowing very thorough bag cleaning while the baghouse continuously achieves very low emission levels (less than 50 mg/m3).
The process in which steel is produced creates a lot of volatile organic compounds, acid gases, particulate, and greenhouse gases… and we are in the business of pollution control! We provide Industrial Air Pollution Control Systems, Waste-to-Energy Solutions, Thermal Processing, Plant Services, Engineering and Consulting. Our unique approach is to analyze your process stream and business objectives from which we propose an ideal solution or range of options to help achieve and optimize those objectives.
Additionally, we use steel. There is a lot of steel in the abatement solutions we provide you, our customers.