Steel production, vital to industries such as transportation and construction, is an extremely expensive and energy-intensive process.
Now an EPSRC-funded project, led by Warwick Manufacturing Group at Warwick University, is investigating the use of a new technology that could dramatically reduce the cost and amount of energy consumed by the process.
The Assure 2 project, which also involves McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and Tata Steel, could allow new advanced steels and steel alloys to be produced using the technology, which is known as belt casting.
In conventional steel production, the molten material is cast into continuous slabs of around 250 millimetres in thickness. These are cut into lengths, hot rolled, and then cold rolled, ultimately producing a strip of around 1mm thickness.
This is extremely energy-intensive, and steel makers have been investigating ways to improve the efficiency of the process by directly casting a thin strip of steel, according to Prof Claire Davis at WMG, who is leading the project.
“In belt casting you cast a strip directly onto a moving belt,” said Davis. “This strip is around 5-10mm thick, so there is very little rolling required to produce a product for the automotive industry, for example.”
Energy consumption accounts for around 20 to 40 per cent of the cost of conventional steel production. A significant portion of the energy consumed is in heating and reheating the steel.
Belt-casting could reduce this energy consumption by more than 3 gigajoules per tonne of steel produced, the researchers claim.
The technique could also allow new advanced high strength strip (AHSS) steel grades, including alloys containing aluminium or manganese, to be produced.
These materials have extremely attractive properties such as increased strength and lower density, but they cannot be produced using conventional processing, as it can lead to the creation of cracks, for example, said Davis.
“Belt-casting could potentially be used to manufacture these hard to produce, high value AHSS steels, in an energy efficient and cost efficient way,” she said.
The researchers will investigate the relationship between the belt casting process and the composition and microstructure of the materials produced.
They will collaborate with Prof Roderick Guthrie at McGill University, the world’s leading expert on belt casting technology, including using the university’s pilot plant facilities to investigate scaling up the process to commercial levels.