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Steel mill with two arc furnaces SteelMill interior.jpg
Steel mill with two arc furnaces

Steelmaking is the process of producing steel from iron ore and/or scrap. In steelmaking, impurities such as nitrogen, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur and excess carbon (the most important impurity) are removed from the sourced iron, and alloying elements such as manganese, nickel, chromium, carbon and vanadium are added to produce different grades of steel. Limiting dissolved gases such as nitrogen and oxygen and entrained impurities (termed "inclusions") in the steel is also important to ensure the quality of the products cast from the liquid steel. [1]


Steelmaking has existed for millennia, but it was not commercialized on a massive scale until the late 14th century. An ancient process of steelmaking was the crucible process. In the 1850s and 1860s, the Bessemer process and the Siemens-Martin process turned steelmaking into a heavy industry. Today there are two major commercial processes for making steel, namely basic oxygen steelmaking, which has liquid pig-iron from the blast furnace and scrap steel as the main feed materials, and electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking, which uses scrap steel or direct reduced iron (DRI) as the main feed materials. Oxygen steelmaking is fueled predominantly by the exothermic nature of the reactions inside the vessel; in contrast, in EAF steelmaking, electrical energy is used to melt the solid scrap and/or DRI materials. In recent times, EAF steelmaking technology has evolved closer to oxygen steelmaking as more chemical energy is introduced into the process. [2]

Steelmaking is one of the most carbon emission intensive industries in the world. As of 2020, steelmaking is estimated to be responsible for 7 to 9 per cent of all direct fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions. [3] In order to mitigate global warming, the industry will need to find reductions in emissions. [4] In 2020, McKinsey identified a number of technologies for decarbonization including hydrogen usage, carbon capture and reuse, and maximizing use of electric arc furnaces powered by clean energy. [4]


Bethlehem Steel (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania facility pictured) was one of the world's largest manufacturers of steel before its closure in 2003. Bethlehem Steel.jpg
Bethlehem Steel (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania facility pictured) was one of the world's largest manufacturers of steel before its closure in 2003.

Steelmaking has played a crucial role in the development of ancient, medieval, and modern technological societies. Early processes of steel making were made during the classical era in Ancient Iran, Ancient China, India, and Rome.

Cast iron is a hard, brittle material that is difficult to work, whereas steel is malleable, relatively easily formed and a versatile material. For much of human history, steel has only been made in small quantities. Since the invention of the Bessemer process in 19th century Britain and subsequent technological developments in injection technology and process control, mass production of steel has become an integral part of the global economy and a key indicator of modern technological development. [5] The earliest means of producing steel was in a bloomery.

Early modern methods of producing steel were often labour-intensive and highly skilled arts. See:

An important aspect of the Industrial Revolution was the development of large-scale methods of producing forgeable metal (bar iron or steel). The puddling furnace was initially a means of producing wrought iron but was later applied to steel production.

The real revolution in modern steelmaking only began at the end of the 1850s when the Bessemer process became the first successful method of steelmaking in high quantity followed by the open-hearth furnace.

Modern processes

Distribution of world steel production by methods Evolution convertisseurs.svg
Distribution of world steel production by methods

Modern steelmaking processes can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary.

Primary steelmaking involves converting liquid iron from a blast furnace and steel scrap into steel via basic oxygen steelmaking, or melting scrap steel or direct reduced iron (DRI) in an electric arc furnace.

Secondary steelmaking involves refining of the crude steel before casting and the various operations are normally carried out in ladles. In secondary metallurgy, alloying agents are added, dissolved gases in the steel are lowered, and inclusions are removed or altered chemically to ensure that high-quality steel is produced after casting. [6]

Primary steelmaking

Basic oxygen steelmaking is a method of primary steelmaking in which carbon-rich molten pig iron is converted into steel. Blowing oxygen through molten pig iron lowers the carbon content of the alloy and changes it into steel. The process is known as basic due to the chemical nature of the refractoriescalcium oxide and magnesium oxide—that line the vessel to withstand the high temperature and corrosive nature of the molten metal and slag in the vessel. The slag chemistry of the process is also controlled to ensure that impurities such as silicon and phosphorus are removed from the metal.

The process was developed in 1948 by Robert Durrer, using a refinement of the Bessemer converter where blowing of air is replaced with blowing oxygen. It reduced the capital cost of the plants and the time of smelting, and increased labor productivity. Between 1920 and 2000, labour requirements in the industry decreased by a factor of 1000, from more than 3 man-hours per tonne to just 0.003 man-hours. The vast majority of steel manufactured in the world is produced using the basic oxygen furnace; in 2011, it accounted for 70% of global steel output. Modern furnaces will take a charge of iron of up to 350 tons and convert it into steel in less than 40 minutes compared to 10–12 hours in an open hearth furnace. [7]

Electric arc furnace steelmaking is the manufacture of steel from scrap or direct reduced iron melted by electric arcs. In an electric arc furnace, a batch of steel ("heat") may be started by loading scrap or direct reduced iron into the furnace, sometimes with a "hot heel" (molten steel from a previous heat). Gas burners may be used to assist with the melt down of the scrap pile in the furnace. As in basic oxygen steelmaking, fluxes are also added to protect the lining of the vessel and help improve the removal of impurities. Electric arc furnace steelmaking typically uses furnaces of capacity around 100 tonnes that produce steel every 40 to 50 minutes for further processing. [7]

Secondary steelmaking

Secondary steelmaking is most commonly performed in ladles. Some of the operations performed in ladles include de-oxidation (or "killing"), vacuum degassing, alloy addition, inclusion removal, inclusion chemistry modification, de-sulphurisation, and homogenisation. It is now common to perform ladle metallurgical operations in gas-stirred ladles with electric arc heating in the lid of the furnace. Tight control of ladle metallurgy is associated with producing high grades of steel in which the tolerances in chemistry and consistency are narrow. [6]

HIsarna steelmaking

In HIsarna ironmaking process, iron ore is processed almost directly into liquid iron or hot metal. The process is based around a type of blast furnace called a cyclone converter furnace, which makes it possible to skip the process of manufacturing pig iron pellets that is necessary for the basic oxygen steelmaking process. Without the necessity of this preparatory step, the HIsarna process is more energy-efficient and has a lower carbon footprint than traditional steelmaking processes.

Carbon dioxide emissions

Steelmaking is estimated to be responsible for 7 to 9% of the global emissions of carbon dioxide. [8] Making 1 ton of steel produces about 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide. The bulk of these emissions results from the industrial process in which coal is used as the source of carbon that removes oxygen from iron ore in the following chemical reaction, which occurs in a blast furnace: [9]

Fe2O3(s) + 3 CO(g) → 2 Fe(s) + 3 CO2(g)

Additional carbon dioxide emissions result from basic oxygen steelmaking, calcination, and the hot blast. A side product of the blast furnace is the blast furnace exhaust gas which contains large amounts of carbon monoxide which is mostly burned for electricity generation which increases the carbon dioxide emissions further. Carbon capture and utilization or carbon capture and storage are proposed techniques to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions in the steel industry next to a shift to electric arc steel production. [8]

Blast furnace

To make pure steel, iron and carbon are needed. On its own, iron is not very strong, but a low concentration of carbon - less than 1 percent, depending on the kind of steel, gives the steel its important properties. The carbon in steel is obtained from coal and the iron from iron ore. However, iron ore is a mixture of iron and oxygen, and other trace elements. To make steel, the iron needs to be separated from the oxygen and a tiny amount of carbon needs to added. Both are accomplished by melting the iron ore at a very high temperature (1,700 degrees Celsius or over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit) in the presence of oxygen (from the air) and a type of coal called coke. At those temperatures, the iron ore releases its oxygen, which is carried away by the carbon from the coke in the form of carbon dioxide.

Fe2O3(s) + 3 CO(g) → 2 Fe(s) + 3 CO2(g)

The reaction occurs due to the lower (favorable) energy state of carbon dioxide compared to iron oxide, and the high temperatures are needed to achieve the activation energy for this reaction. A small amount of carbon bonds with the iron, forming pig iron, which is an intermediary before steel, as it has carbon content that is too high - around 4%. [10]


To reduce the carbon content in pig iron and obtain the desired carbon content of steel, the pig iron is re-melted and oxygen is blown through in a process called basic oxygen steelmaking, which occurs in a ladle. In this step, the oxygen binds with the undesired carbon, carrying it away in the form of carbon dioxide gas, an additional source of emissions. After this step, the carbon content in the pig iron is lowered sufficiently and steel is obtained.


Further carbon dioxide emissions result from the use of limestone, which is melted at high temperatures in a reaction called calcination, which has the following chemical reaction.

CaCO3(s) → CaO(s) + CO2(g)

The carbon in the limestone is therefore released as carbon dioxide, making it an additional source of emissions. The calcium oxide acts as a chemical flux, removes impurities in the form of slag. For example, the calcium oxide can react to remove silicon oxide impurities:

SiO2 + CaO → CaSiO3

This use of limestone to provide a flux occurs both in the blast furnace (to obtain pig iron) and in the basic oxygen steel making (to obtain steel).

Hot blast

Further carbon dioxide emissions result from the hot blast, which is used to increase the heat of the blast furnace. The hot blast pumps hot air into the blast furnace where the iron ore is reduced to pig iron, helping to achieve the high activation energy. The hot blast temperature can be from 900 °C to 1300 °C (1600 °F to 2300 °F) depending on the stove design and condition. Oil, tar, natural gas, powdered coal and oxygen can also be injected into the furnace to combine with the coke to release additional energy and increase the percentage of reducing gases present, increasing productivity. If the air in the hot blast is heated by burning fossil fuels, which often is the case, this is an additional source of carbon dioxide emissions. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

Steel Metal alloy made by combining iron with other elements

Steel is an alloy made up of iron with typically a few tenths of a percent of carbon to improve its strength and fracture resistance compared to iron. Many other elements may be present or added. Stainless steels that are corrosion- and oxidation-resistant need typically an additional 11% chromium. Because of its high tensile strength and low cost, steel is used in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, trains, cars, machines, electrical appliances, and weapons. Iron is the base metal of steel. Depending on the temperature, it can take two crystalline forms : body-centred cubic and face-centred cubic. The interaction of the allotropes of iron with the alloying elements, primarily carbon, gives steel and cast iron their range of unique properties.

Smelting Use of heat and a reducing agent to extract metal from ore

Smelting is a process of applying heat to ore in order to extract a base metal. It is a form of extractive metallurgy. It is used to extract many metals from their ores, including silver, iron, copper, and other base metals. Smelting uses heat and a chemical reducing agent to decompose the ore, driving off other elements as gases or slag and leaving the metal base behind. The reducing agent is commonly a fossil fuel source of carbon, such as coke—or, in earlier times, charcoal. The oxygen in the ore binds to carbon at high temperatures due to the lower potential energy of the bonds in carbon dioxide. Smelting most prominently takes place in a blast furnace to produce pig iron, which is converted into steel.

Bessemer process Steel production method

The Bessemer process was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass production of steel from molten pig iron before the development of the open hearth furnace. The key principle is removal of impurities from the iron by oxidation with air being blown through the molten iron. The oxidation also raises the temperature of the iron mass and keeps it molten.

Pig iron Iron alloy

Pig iron, also known as crude iron, is an intermediate product of the iron industry in the production of steel which is obtained by smelting iron ore in a blast furnace. Pig iron has a very high carbon content, typically 3.8–4.7%, along with silica and other constituents of dross, which makes it very brittle and not useful directly as a material except for limited applications.

Wrought iron Iron alloy with a very low carbon content

Wrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon content in contrast to that of cast iron. It is a semi-fused mass of iron with fibrous slag inclusions, which gives it a "grain" resembling wood that is visible when it is etched or bent to the point of failure. Wrought iron is tough, malleable, ductile, corrosion resistant, and easily welded.

Slag Glass-like by-product left over after a desired metal has been separated from its raw ore

Slag is the glass-like by-product left over after a desired metal has been separated from its raw ore. Slag is usually a mixture of metal oxides and silicon dioxide. However, slags can contain metal sulfides and elemental metals. While slags are generally used to remove waste in metal smelting, they can also serve other purposes, such as assisting in the temperature control of the smelting, and minimizing any re-oxidation of the final liquid metal product before the molten metal is removed from the furnace and used to make solid metal. In some smelting processes, such as ilmenite smelting to produce titanium dioxide, the slag is the valuable product instead of the metal.

Blast furnace Type of metallurgical furnace used for smelting to produce industrial metals

A blast furnace is a type of metallurgical furnace used for smelting to produce industrial metals, generally pig iron, but also others such as lead or copper. Blast refers to the combustion air being "forced" or supplied above atmospheric pressure.

Industrial processes

Industrial processes are procedures involving chemical, physical, electrical or mechanical steps to aid in the manufacturing of an item or items, usually carried out on a very large scale. Industrial processes are the key components of heavy industry.

Basic oxygen steelmaking

Basic oxygen steelmaking, also known as Linz-Donawitz steelmaking or the oxygen converter process is a method of primary steelmaking in which carbon-rich molten pig iron is made into steel. Blowing oxygen through molten pig iron lowers the carbon content of the alloy and changes it into low-carbon steel. The process is known as basic because fluxes of burnt lime or dolomite, which are chemical bases, are added to promote the removal of impurities and protect the lining of the converter.

Steel mill Plant for steelmaking

A steel mill or steelworks is an industrial plant for the manufacture of steel. It may be an integrated steel works carrying out all steps of steelmaking from smelting iron ore to rolled product, but may also be a plant where steel semi-finished casting products are made from molten pig iron or from scrap.

Open hearth furnace

Open-hearth furnaces are one of several kinds of furnace in which excess carbon and other impurities are burnt out of pig iron to produce steel. Since steel is difficult to manufacture owing to its high melting point, normal fuels and furnaces were insufficient and the open-hearth furnace was developed to overcome this difficulty. Compared to Bessemer steel, which it displaced, its main advantages were that it did not expose the steel to excessive nitrogen, was easier to control, and permitted the melting and refining of large amounts of scrap iron and steel.

Electric arc furnace

An electric arc furnace (EAF) is a furnace that heats charged material by means of an electric arc.

Pyrometallurgy is a branch of extractive metallurgy. It consists of the thermal treatment of minerals and metallurgical ores and concentrates to bring about physical and chemical transformations in the materials to enable recovery of valuable metals. Pyrometallurgical treatment may produce products able to be sold such as pure metals, or intermediate compounds or alloys, suitable as feed for further processing. Examples of elements extracted by pyrometallurgical processes include the oxides of less reactive elements like iron, copper, zinc, chromium, tin, and manganese.

In the mining industry or extractive metallurgy, beneficiation is any process that improves (benefits) the economic value of the ore by removing the gangue minerals, which results in a higher grade product and a waste stream (tailings). There are many different types of beneficiation, with each step furthering the concentration of the original ore.

Direct reduced iron

Direct reduced iron (DRI), also called sponge iron, is produced from the direct reduction of iron ore into iron by a reducing gas or elemental carbon produced from natural gas or coal. Many ores are suitable for direct reduction.

Deoxidization is a method used in metallurgy to remove the oxygen content during steel manufacturing. In contrast, antioxidants are used for stabilization, such as in the storage of food. Deoxidation is important in the steelmaking process as oxygen is often detrimental to the quality of steel produced. Deoxidization is mainly achieved by adding a separate chemical species to neutralize the effects of oxygen or by directly removing the oxygen.

The HIsarna ironmaking process is a direct reduced iron process for iron making in which iron ore is processed almost directly into liquid iron (pig iron). The process combines two process units, the Cyclone Converter Furnace (CCF) for ore melting and pre-reduction and a Smelting Reduction Vessel (SRV) where the final reduction stage to liquid iron takes place. The process does not require the manufacturing of iron ore agglomerates such as pellets and sinter, nor the production of coke, which are necessary for the blast furnace process. Without these steps, the HIsarna process is more energy-efficient and has a lower carbon footprint than traditional ironmaking processes. In 2018 Tata Steel announced it has demonstrated that more than 50% CO2 emission reduction is possible with HIsarna technology, without the need for carbon capture technology.

The Corex Process is a smelting reduction process created by Siemens VAI as a more environmentally friendly alternative to the blast furnace. Presently, the majority of steel production is through the blast furnace which has to rely on ever decreasing amounts of coking coal. That is coal which has been cooked in order to remove impurities so that it is superior to coal. In addition, the Blast furnace requires a sinter plant too in order to prepare the iron ore for reduction. Unlike the Blast Furnace, smelting reduction processes are typical smaller and use coal and oxygen directly to reduce iron ore into a usable product. Smelting reduction processes come in two basic varieties, two-stage or single-stage. In a single-stage system the iron ore is both reduced and melted in the same container. Meanwhile, in a two-stage process, like Corex, the ore is reduced in one shaft and melted and purified in another. Plants using the Corex process have been put use in areas such as South Africa, India, and China.

In 2014, the United States was the world’s third-largest producer of raw steel, and the sixth-largest producer of pig iron. The industry produced 29 million metric tons of pig iron and 88 million tons of steel. Most iron and steel in the United States is now made from iron and steel scrap, rather than iron ore. The United States is also a major importer of iron and steel, as well as iron and steel products.

Metallurgical furnace Device used to heat and munipuliate metals

A metallurgical furnace, more commonly referred to as a furnace, is a device used to heat and melt metal ore to remove gangue, primarily in iron and steel production. The heat energy to fuel a furnace may be supplied directly by fuel combustion, by electricity such as the electric arc furnace, or through induction heating in induction furnaces. There are several different types of furnaces used in metallurgy to work with specific metal and ores.


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