Boosting steel efficiency

Materials World magazine
1 Jan 2018

A new EU project aims to develop software to reduce raw materials use in Europe’s steel industry. Ellis Davies reports.

Following an increase in Europe’s steel production in the wake of the 2008 recession, the industry has settled at a level where overcapacity still exists. To maintain competitiveness in a situation where steel imports are increasing, the Morse (model-based optimisation for efficient use of resources and energy) project has been established by a number of European companies with funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The project commenced in October 2017, and will continue for four years until the end of September 2021.

It aims to develop a more advanced software toolset to help manage complex steel processes, such as hot rolling – model-based tools can accurately monitor and predict steel processes and make corrective actions based on this information. The software tools targeted will be plant-wide cost optimisation tools for offline predictive analysis, model-based unit process controllers and control solutions for overall production status (concentrating on quality) and optimal decision-making. These can monitor and estimate the current and future status of processes and products. 

The results will benefit countries outside of the consortium, and in other sectors of the process industry. 

VTT is leading the project as a coordinator, with nine companies in total making up the consortium – VTT, the VDEh Institute for Applied Research, GRIPS Industrial IT Solutions GmbH, Germany, Cybernetica AS, Norway, SW Development, Finland and software company Idener, Spain. Project coordinator, Heli Helaakoski of the VTT Technical Research Centre, Finland, spoke to Materials World about Morse’s key goals. ‘To focus on the bottlenecks of production and [use] case studies to solve them. The bottleneck can be a process point that uses lots of energy or resources, or decreases the quality of the product. There will then be a development stage, integrating software tools to solve these bottlenecks. The final stage will be testing the software solutions in a real steel mill environment.’

Due to high dependence on resources – energy, raw materials and utilities – the process industry is continuously looking for new ways to improve resource efficiency ‘In large scale production even small changes in raw materials and energy use can significantly improve process efficiency and improve competitiveness,’ said Helaakoski. The project will look into new ways of managing the entire production chain, lowering the consumption of energy and raw materials and reducing yield losses. 

Cleaner processes

Carbon dioxide emissions will also be reduced. The steel industry is a major emitter of CO2 and it has to face the challenge of industry decarbonisation. ‘Morse will not give a final answer to this problem, but the industry needs to make small steps of improvement on the way to CO2 free steelmaking,’ said Helaakoski. While not developing any new production technologies, it will decrease emissions by improving the quality of the products by advanced process control.

There are three industrial demonstrator sites at SSAB Raahe steel mill and Outokumpu stainless steel mill in Tornio, Finland, and the MFL steel foundry, Austria. The developed software solutions will be tested at these industrial sites.