We Are Living in Interesting Times
When I joined Midrex in 1987 as a summer intern, global production of direct reduced iron (DRI) the previous year had increased 15% to 12.68 million tons. In 2021, DRI production was nearly 120 million tons, and although we are still gathering the data for 2022, I am certain DRI production will continue to grow dramatically to meet the tremendous demand driven by decarbonization.
The direct reduction industry has come a long way in a relatively short time. Not just in the tons that are produced each year, but also in its role in the rise of electric arc furnace (EAF)-based steelmaking. You could say they have “grown up together,” with the EAF capturing an increasing share of high-quality steel products thanks in great part to the diluent effect of DRI when used with scrap. Along the way, DRI has responded to the call for a better merchant product in the form of hot briquetted iron (HBI) and has harnessed the sensible heat from the reduction process with hot DRI (HDRI) to benefit EAF operations and productivity.
Today, the DR-EAF steelmaking route is generally viewed as the steel industry’s “best bet” for reaching its decarbonization goals by 2050. Recently, Midrex participated in a US government-sponsored roundtable discussion on how to quicken the pace of industrial decarbonization and increase American competitiveness. The keys are electricity from renewable energy sources, “green” hydrogen from water electrolysis, and DRI from hydrogen-based DR plants.
We see opportunities to produce “green” iron at scale at mega-hubs in locations having the right energy and logistics profiles, such as North America, Middle East & North Africa (MENA), and Australia to be shipped to steelmakers around the world. We also believe that hydrogen DRI could replace merchant pig iron in EAFs. A lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) could be eliminated by replacing the 6 million tons of pig iron that was imported in 2021 by EAF operators in the US.
How will these visions be realized? There are two full-scale “lighthouse” projects underway that are based on MIDREX® hydrogen technologies. Each of the projects is unique, yet they share in the unparalleled performance of the MIDREX Shaft Furnace.
- H2 Green Steel has broken ground in Boden, Sweden, on the world’s first commercial-scale 100% hydrogen DR plant, as part of a totally “green” steel complex that will eliminate up to 95% of CO2 emissions compared to traditional steelmaking. The 2.1 million metric tons per year (Mt/y) MIDREX H2TM plant will supply hydrogen-based DRI that will be mixed with scrap and melted in EAFs powered by “green” electricity. First product is expected in late 2025.
- thyssenkrupp Steel in Duisburg, Germany, is beginning to replace its traditional steelmaking by installing a 2.5 Mt/y DRI-electric melter combination that will avoid 3.5 Mt/y of CO2 associated with its current blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) facilities. The MIDREX FlexTM plant can be operated immediately with reformed natural gas, which contains 50% or more hydrogen, and transitioned to 100% hydrogen operation as sufficient hydrogen becomes available. The DR plant is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2026.
When I am asked to describe Midrex, I say we are a small team doing big work, committed to loving and serving others. Some might think it is strange for a technology company in the iron and steel industry to have this focus but it is how we have designed and supplied plants since the 1970s that have produced well over 1 billion tons of DRI. Each year, MIDREX Plants produce approximately 80% of the world’s low CO2 iron. And that is “big” work that we are very proud of.
Yes, these are interesting times and I cannot think of a more capable team of people to tackle whatever the future holds than the men and women of the Midrex family and no better person to lead them than my friend and colleague for the past 13 years, K.C. Woody. That’s why I’ve made the decision to retire in April 2024 to spend more time with my family and in ministry. K.C. will immediately add president to his current title of chief operating officer, and I will continue as chief executive officer until my retirement and will serve on the Midrex board thereafter. So, join me in saluting the good times that were and the even better times to come.
The cover article of this issue of Direct From Midrex provides a first glance from inside Algerian-Qatari Steel by DR Plant Acting Manager Eng. Mohamed El Sayed. The other feature article is a technical investigation of the effects on iron oxides of high pressure in direct reduction by a trio of Paul Wurth Italia engineers. News & Views includes the announcement of K.C. Woody as Midrex President and COO, the contract awarded by thyssenkrupp Steel to Midrex and Paul Wurth for the first commercial-scale hydrogen DRI-electric melter combination plant, the participation by Midrex in a White House Roundtable Discussion on industrial decarbonization, the hiring of Rogerio Valdejao as Director-Global Business Development, the promotion of Sean Boyle as Director-Plant Sales, and MIDREX Plants with first quarter anniversaries.