The widespread introduction of electric arc furnaces and the adoption of hydrogen production processes will transform the global steel industry over the next two decades, the European Electric Steelmaking Conference was told.

EEC 2021 was organised by IOM3 and staged in Sheffield, with a fully interactive virtual experience for those unable to attend in person. Visits for delegates were also organised to Liberty Steel at Rotherham and to the Institute’s research facilities at Middlesbrough.

Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Teesside-based Materials Processing Institute, told delegates: “The majority of steel producers are looking for an alternative to existing blast furnaces, which emit large quantities of carbon dioxide and are likely to be phased out over the coming decades.

The 12th European Electric Steelmaking Conference (EEC 2021) and is the primary event for steelmakers, product specialists, and the steel sector supply chain, including academics and research and technology organisations, to share knowledge on current and future developments involving electric arc steelmaking and associated techniques.

The Institute played a major role at the conference, delivering six keynote speeches and chairing three discussion sessions.

In his keynote speech, entitled ‘Development of the UK Steel Industry’, Chris McDonald outlined how electric steelmaking, alongside hydrogen and, to some extent, carbon capture and storage, will meet the challenges of the transition to a future decarbonised and digitised steel industry.

“Electric arc furnaces, combined with hydrogen ironmaking, is the best alternative technology and we expect significant growth in electric steelmaking as production switches to this method between now and 2040.”

Chris McDonald, chief executive, Materials Processing Institute

“In previous years this was only of interest to those steel producers who used electric arc furnaces, but EEC 2021 has taken on huge new significance with the need to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions across the industry.”

The Institute was awarded £22m by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, last year to lead the five-year PRISM research and innovation programme for the steel and metals sectors to increase competitiveness and sustainability.

As part of its research into developing new, climate friendly approaches to steelmaking that rely on hydrogen and electric arc furnaces, the Institute has developed a pilot scale electric arc steelmaking facility at its Teesside campus.

Chris added: “This is being used to trial alternative raw materials and to push the boundaries of electric steelmaking, to make ever more challenging steel products.”

Tim Goodwin, senior liaison metallurgist at Liberty Steel, joined the party touring the Institute’s campus, which included seeing the electric arc furnace in operation and the ongoing investment in state-of-the art research equipment and facilities commented: “It is clear from what is on show today that the work being undertaken at the Materials Processing Institute will play a major role in developing new technologies to decarbonise steelmaking.”