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POSCO To Scrap 100-Year-Old Furnace Technology
A groundbreaking new technology promises a cheaper and cleaner alternative in steel production
Jean K. Min (jean)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2004-08-18 15:51 (KST)   
POSCO began today construction of the first commercial furnace based on the groundbreaking FINEX process to replace the century old blast furnace technology.

The Korean steel maker's new furnace is designed to produce molten iron directly using iron ore fines and non-coking coal, eliminating the costly preliminary process of sintering and coke making, the company statement said.

Thanks to the reduced iron making process, the overall construction cost will be slashed by 8 percent compared to that of conventional furnaces. The $1.1bn furnace is expected to produce steel about 17 percent cheaper than the conventional ones since it can use cheaper and more abundant coal fines instead of the previously used high-quality sticky coal lumps.

Iron production flow of Blast Furnace and FINEX
©2004 POSCO
Elimination of the costly preliminary process will drastically reduce the emission of toxic fumes and coal dusts as well, it said. The FINEX furnace can reduce emission of sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides by 92 percent and 96 percent respectively. As POSCO has to retire its existing furnaces by 2010, it hopes to replace them with new FINEX-based plant.

POSCO believes its innovative technology will give its global operation a firm competitive edge for the next couple of decades. It already enjoys a top notch productivity and cost efficiency in the global steel industry but its core technologies have been largely imported from other advanced neighboring steel producers. With its new FINEX technology fully in commercial operation by the end of 2006, POSCO believes it can lead global steel market with an unprecedented clout and efficiency.

The significance of POSCO's new technology is that it allows steel producers to utilize abundant low grade coal fines in iron making process. The high quality sticky coal widely used among conventional blast furnaces is estimated to comprise only 15 percent of global coal reserve. Low quality coal fines have been previously used only for generating electricity.

Various steel producers worldwide have been diligently developing competing technologies to replace their aging blast furnaces--Japan's DIOS, HISMELT in Australia, CCE in Europe and Brazil's TECNORED among them. However, with the exception of Australia's HISMELT plant with the production capacity of 800 thousands tons per year, no company has ever successfully commercialized their next generation technology yet enough to scrap the blast furnaces completely.

Numerous stumbling blocks lie ahead before it can start a successful commercial operation of the new plant tough. The new furnace will have to be tested as a pilot plant for a couple of years before it can achieve the target production goal. Even the company's chairman Lee Ku Taek confesses he is not sure if the technology tested for the 600 thousand ton/yr pilot production can be successfully adapted to a 1.5million ton/yr plant. There still remain some risks before it can see a full-scale development of the new technology, he warns.
©2004 OhmyNews

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