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Charcoal for metallurgy

charcoal in the metallurgyTimber merchants have no place, where to put waste. Maybe they can process it into the charcoal or load it into the blast furnace, as it used to be earlier. Environmentalists with the Kyoto Protocol also do not mind...

Nowadays metallurgy has reached a global level of development! However, there are some problems with the raw material: gas prices are getting closer to the world prices, coking coal is becoming more and more expensive and increasingly scarce.


Anciently charcoal was the main raw material for steel production, until the mid-eighteenth century, when the British, who had had very few forests, invented the technology of use of coal for smelting. Since then, the share of bio product in the steel industry fell sharply.

However, it has retained its priority in some regions and metallurgical technologies, especially in restoring. Many enterprises continue to use black biofuel in the production of cast iron, ferroalloys, lead, aluminum, copper, tin, Nickel, lanthanides, rare and precious metals. It is also used as the covering flux in the smelting of some types of bronze and brass, Nickel alloys (Melchior and Nickel silver). The charcoal can possibly be used as a carburizer for grouting in the production of armor. Besides that, this bio product is technologically quite capable to replace his "stone brother" and coke breeze in any blast furnace.

Estimates of the volume of world charcoal production are very different – from 9 to 23 million tons per year, as the biggest part of it is produced by small capacity in artisanal way in developing countries, where statistics is badly developed. It is assumed that the steel industry receives about 20% of the product.

The decline in the consumption of charcoal in the global steel industry intensified in the 80-ies of the last century due to its substitution by coke, the pressure of the environmental control authorities and depletion of forests. The price competition became the decisive factor – cast iron made with coke has become much cheaper in the global market.

However, until the present days in the world charring and usage of its products in metallurgy remained a serious leader – Brazil, whose iron has a great demand, especially in the United States. The average capacity of blast furnaces on the black biofuel in Brazil is 122,85 tons of metal per year.

The total charcoal production of Brazil for metallurgy is estimated at 7.5 million tons per year. It is interesting that in the country there are large timber companies, specializing in charring. For example, Mannesmann and Plantar Group firms plant fast-growing eucalyptus (E. Camaldulensis, Cloesiana, Urophylla and Pellita), and then independently process it. For production of biofuel, these companies spent 5% of the amount of wood placed in the oven. There are also serious losses of raw materials and products: out of 1 ton of raw wood to the blast furnace (including the output of by-products, sorting and transport losses) comes only about 0.17 tons of charcoal.


In addition, in South America, there are combined charcoal and metallurgical holdings, that grow the forest for themselves, burn black bio product out of it, and then melt the iron it on. The average indicators of production are approximately the same: on 525 thousand hectares of the eucalyptus plantations at a cost of $199.5 million in the year produced 175 million cubic meters of charcoal at a cost of $10,25 per cubic meter that allows to produce 67 million tons of metal annually. For example, GK Queiroz Galvão hardly covers its needs in the charcoal for production of 860 thousand tons of cast iron per year on the seven blast furnaces at the expense of own forest areas. Meanwhile its charring powers are uploaded to 81-82% due to insufficiency of forest resources.

Indeed, the plant origin of the raw materials determines the high degree of dependence of iron production on the availability of forests, as well as on the duration of the rains. Thus, the Brazilian steel company Maranhão Gusa SA (Margusa) in 2007 has had significant problems with the supply of charcoal because of the long-term absence of permits for the usage of new forest areas by one of the iron factories. Other enterprises face similar difficulties. That is why in the country appeared a deficit of black bio product. Accordingly, the prices of cast iron produced, for example, by the holding Asica increased. In such circumstances, many Brazilian companies have already begun the transition to the usage of stone coal and its products or they are considering this option.

Russia has been competing with Brazil in the world market of cast iron for a long time. It is believed that only by using charcoal it is possible to obtain high quality ductile metal. Until 2006, it was manufactured in the Urals in Kusa and now it is being produced in the city of Kasli for various purposes including art casting, that requires high quality of the surface and resistance to weathering. The metal, smelted on biofuels, more Kovac and less fragile. In addition, powdered charcoal (with lump lime, hydrofluoric feldspar and coke) is used for smelting high-quality carbon steel or alloy steel in electric arc furnaces for the effective removal of sulfur from the metal.

In the Soviet Union until 1990, only 8 large plants were burning the charcoal. Now to this category can be attributed only Amzinskiy forest combine and Molomskiy wood-chemical plant that provide domestic steel industry with the black bio product and supply their products for export. But even they have significantly reduced the production of coal in recent years because the steel industry has moved to cheaper energy. In the Sverdlovsk region, Kamensk-Uralsky metallurgical plant (KUMZ) consumes monthly up to 1 thousand tons of charcoal supplied by Verhnesinyachihinskiy wood-chemical plant, Nizhneserginskiy forest industrial farm and Serovska timber base. The total project capacity of the forestry enterprises in Soviet times has reached 53 thousand tons of biofuel a year, but now they have reduced production to 20 thousand tons, as the equipment became obsolete. A number of charcoal kilns, for example, in Nizhniye Sergi, dropped six times during this time.

In the defense industry, which used to consume a huge amount of the bio product for the production of filters from activated carbon and adsorbents, the volume of demand also fell sharply. In addition, the rejection of biofuels by steel production was caused by a number of technological problems in charring, related to the obsolescence of equipment and technology.

Wood charcoal

High-tech potential of the charcoal is in the smelting!

Nowadays it is not so easy to answer the question about the prospect of large supply of charcoal to metallurgists.

In Russia, the British-Russian Aricom Plc., which is preparing for the active phase of development of the Gari and Kimkano-sutarsky fields, together with the consulting company Hatch and the Russian research Institute "FSUE Giredmet" (Moscow), are considering the usage of charcoal or its mixture with a stone as an option for direct reduction of iron on the planned steel plant. Meanwhile, it was found that the use of the forest resources of the Amur region and the JAR will fully provide all the needs of the production in bioproduct at the guaranteed preservation of the natural balance of the region.

It is expected that in Russia the strengthening of the deficit of coking coal to 10 million tons by 2015, and by 2020 - up to 15 million tones and probable growth spurt in the price of gas and coke may contribute the development of charring for smelting. In addition, in the case of toughening of requirements of international organizations to the environmental friendliness of steel products, active involvement of Russia into implementation activities of the Kyoto Protocol, strengthening of environmental protection, government encouraging of waste processing and biofuel production, the increase in demand for charcoal production from the metallurgical sector is becoming possible.

Maybe, "Association of manufacturers of charcoal Russia" will arouse the interest of the steel industry. Its foundation has begun in March 2007 with the assistance of the "Timber industry Confederation of north-west Russia". It is expected, that more than 50 producers of black biofuels, advocating the revival of the charcoal industry by expanding the use of mobile pyrolysis plants of small capacity, which are easily transported to new sources of raw materials, will join the Association. The emphasis is on the development of domestic use of bio product (fuel for boilers, fireplaces, barbecues, etc.), as well as on the target production of charcoal briquettes from wood waste, as suggested by "Perun" Ltd., including for metallurgy.

Briquettes are the real solution to the growing problem of deficit of lump ore, if powdered ore or the ore dust produced during the extraction is added to it. In addition, the briquettes can include metal-containing waste. It will partially solve the problem of their disposal and recycling. Furthermore, the technology of briquetting would give the possibility to qualify seriously for export of charcoal products of a wide range of applications, including domestic.

Therefore, the timber industry has good reasons to offer the metallurgists to join into the large charcoal business at a new technological level. Firstly, in the forest regions of the Subpolar Urals, Eastern Siberia and the Far East, where is now actively planned or has already started implementation of several projects, extraction of ores, its beneficiation and production of metals. Secondly, in the southern parts of the country, where according to Brazilian technology the cultivation of plantation of fast growing wood (willow, poplar, etc.) is possible.

It turns out that the idea of reviving Russian charring in the specific steel sector and in the regions of high degree of forest cover or with a favorable climate is technologically, economically and from the point of view of environmental protection, fully justified. Most importantly, it has serious potential for nature conservation for future generations.


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