Tight supply conditions for carbon graphite electrodes are threatening to stall EU steel production, according to the European Steel Association (EUROFER).

According to EUROFER, graphite rods are indispensable in Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) ‘secondary’ steelmaking and in the Ladle Furnace (LF) metallurgy stages of both the EAF and ‘primary’ blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) production routes.

“Graphite electrodes are made from high quality needle coke. Needle coke is a premium grade, high value petroleum coke, which has been seeing shortages and sharply higher prices in recent months”, said Axel Eggert, director general of the EUROFER. “This global shortage has been caused by the idling of global production capacity over the past few years, followed by production stoppages recently enforced by the Chinese authorities as a result of additional environmental standards”.

Mr Eggert continued, “The global carbon graphite electrode market is serviced by relatively few companies in a limited number of regions. Many producers are to be found in China, with others located in India, United States, Japan and Europe. All are heavily dependent on the availability of needle coke. With Chinese supplies of needle coke and graphite out of the market, there is a clear shortage of both materials”.

European steel production is dependent on imported graphite electrodes. Around 226kt of electrodes are consumed annually in the EU. Of this, more than 60% of the smaller LF-type rods come from China, meaning that both primary and secondary steel production could be seriously affected by the ongoing shortage and supply volatility.

“Seamless supply of these electrodes has long been the norm for the sector. However this stability is now at risk”, concluded Eggert. “Steel producers will need to be very cautious and take the necessary steps in order to prevent production disruptions caused by any prolonged shortage of electrodes”.