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Emerging secondary steel making processes

Introduction
Secondary steel making is the term applied to the processes for treatment of liquid steel between the primary steel
making unit and the casting. These processes involve in refining operation to provide metallurgical benefits which
include better alloy recovery, homogenous molten bath composition, accurate control of temperature for casting,
better de-oxidation, excellent de-sulphurisation, low levels of hydrogen oxygen & nitrogen contents, achievement of
low inclusion rating through promoting inclusion separation coupled with inclusion modification and so on. It is the
increasing demand of high quality steel that prompted development of secondary steel making technology. Also,
secondary steel making enhance the productivity of primary steel making units and improves the overall economics.

Methods of secondary steel making


There are varied categories of secondary steel making facilities that are available in the world today. Broadly,
secondary steel making units categorized are based on (a) Stirring Systems (b) Ladle Heating Systems (c) Vacuum
Degassing Systems and (d) Injection Systems. The application of a particular unit for the melt shop depends upon
the specific needs of the plant and the product made. However, it is the final product that determines the choice of
the process.

Stirring systems
These systems involve in stirring the molten steel bath for obtaining homogenous temperature, composition,
inclusion floatation and promotion of slag-metal refining reaction. Stirring systems are further classified as Ladle
Stirring and Vessel Stirring.

Ladle stirring
Here, stirring is carried out either by gas or by electro-magnetic methods. Gas Stirring process is a method where
stirring is done through injection of inert gas into the steel bath. Stirring results from the expansion of gas due to
heating and decrease in pressure as the gas rises. One of the methods is injection of inert gas through deeply
inserted refractory lance from the top in to the molten steel bath. These lances may be of T, Y or straight bore type.
Initially, nitrogen was used as medium for purging that resulted in increased nitrogen pick up in steels. This led to
application of argon gas for stirring to produce steels with low nitrogen. Gas stirring by purging argon through the
porous plug located at the bottom of the ladle has evolved as the most effective method of gas stirring. From the
simple argon purging from porous plug, further developments took place in the form of using snorkel over the steel
bath by sealed argon bubbling and provision of composition adjustment through the process known as CAS method.
Here, the slag remains undisturbed and limits the detrimental effects of primary furnace slag contamination like poor
recovery of aluminium, increased phosphorous reversion etc. The best advantages of gas stirring method can be
accrued through mixing a basic reducing slag with steel in the inert environment to simultaneously achieve deoxidation & de-suphurisation. Also, the argon stirring helps in reducing the hydrogen content and improves the
cleanliness of the steel by floatation of oxide inclusions. Electro-Magnetic Stirring process is a stirring method
involving induction stirring through electro-magnetic coils positioned close to the ladle. Here, the supply of turbulent
currents through the coils diametrically at 1/3rd and 2/3rd of the ladle depth below the surface of the molten steel
induces stirring action. This method provides lower stirring energy than the gas stirring system with better stirring
energy distribution with controlled stirring action. The stirring system is reported to be an excellent process for
floatation and separation of non-metallic inclusions.

Vessel stirring
One of the most popular secondary steel making process for stainless steel production is through Argon Oxygen Decarburization (AOD) unit. It is a low cost stainless steel production method that can absorb large amounts of scrap
and high carbon ferrochrome. The initial carbon content of the melt is about 3% and the process possesses the
capability to achieve carbon levels of maximum 0.015%.The steel melted in Electric Arc Furnace is transferred to
AOD where oxygen and argon are injected into the molten bath through the tuyeres located at the lower side wall of
the converter. Chromium oxidation increases as the carbon content is reduced. In this process, to ensure rapid decarburization but low chromium losses while conserving argon, a low ratio of argon : oxygen is injected initially. As
the carbon content of the bath decreases, the ratio is increased. After de-carburization, FeSi is used as reductant to
recover chromium lost to the slag. Basic slag is produced through addition of sufficient amount of lime for decreasing
the activity of silica and followed by vigorous stirring that enables to offset the detrimental effect of chromium on bath
oxygen content for production of low oxide inclusions coupled with high degree of de-sulphurization of the stainless
steel. Further developments took place through application of top and bottom blowing leading to improved production
rates.

Ladle heating systems


Ladle furnace Ladle Furnace has come out as a great relief to the primary steel making. Here, a refractory or a water
cooled lid sits on a seal along the rim of the ladle. Three phase electric power is introduced through the graphite
electrodes for heating the molten steel as a means to increase temperature with heating rate of about 3C 4
C/min. With the hoppers provided for alloying addition, chemistry adjustment can be carried out effectively. This
furnace thus, acts as an excellent buffer between the primary melting unit and the continuous caster giving precise
temperature and compositional control. This provides an option to the primary melting unit to tap at low temperatures
leading to saving in time and energy. Through appropriate slag composition control, de-oxidation practice and argon
stirring, it is possible to produce clean steels through Ladle furnace.

CAS- OB Process
This is a development to the earlier CAS method of gas stirring wherein there is provision for oxygen lancing and
feeding aluminium through the snorkel to enable chemical heating of steel for increasing temperature.

AC Plasma method
This is a heating system employing three plasma torches using argon as the carrier gas. The advantage of this
method is avoiding carbon pick up which is evident in arc heating systems. It is expected that this technology would
come out in a big way for production of ultra low carbon steels.

Vaccum degassing systems


The concept of degassing started primarily to control the hydrogen content in steels but sooner it served many
purposes for production of clean steels. The degassing systems can be further classified as Circulation Degassers,
Tank Degassers and Stream Degassers.

Circulation degassers
In this process, a vacuum chamber is positioned above the ladle possessing a snorkel or snorkels which are dipped
into the molten steel bath. There are two types of Circulation Degassers namely Dortmund Hrder (DH) and
Ruhrstahl Heraeus (RH) units. DH unit has a single snorkel and operates by repeatedly sucking the metal into the
vacuum chamber and then releasing it back into the ladle. RH unit has two snorkels dipped into the ladle. Similar to
the DH degasser, the snorkels are covered with a sheet metal cone at the start of the operation to act as slag
breaker preventing slag from entering the vacuum chamber. Metal is circulated into the chamber by injecting argon
gas into the bottom of one leg. This induces an up flow; and down flow occurs in the other leg creating a circulating
movement. Here, the slag remains undisturbed leading to poor de-sulphurisation. New developments in DH and RH
degassing units took place in the form of increased vessel size, stirring energy for faster & efficient operation
coupled with changes in design & refractories to limit temperature losses about 12C to 15C through fast and
repeated use. RH-OB is a process which incorporates an oxygen injection facility near to the bottom of the vacuum
chamber to enable production of low carbon steels. Also, temperature recovery is achieved through use of aluminium
in combination with oxygen and normal degassing practice is carried out for production of clean steels. Considering
suppression of slag-metal mixing in circulation degassers with no de-sulphurisation, new techniques have been
developed which involve injecting refining slag into the up leg of RH vessel and is reported to achieve desulphurisation to the tune of 80%.

Tank degassers
Here, the ladle is placed in a vacuum tank and stirred with an inert gas while the tank is evacuated. Alternatively, the
ladle may have a sealing arrangement on its periphery for a lid to be fitted which forms the vacuum chamber.

Vacuum degassing (VD) unit


This is a simple ladle degassing unit with provisions for alloying additions. Here, vacuum is created through steam
ejectors. Pressures as low as 0.5 mm Hg are created and the process is capable in homogenization of molten steel
bath with regard to both temperature & composition, fine adjustment of chemistry, improved de-oxidation and
reduction in hydrogen, oxygen & nitrogen contents. De-sulphurisation is a big problem for heats directly processed
through VD unit from primary steel melter. However, the problem can be sorted out through ensuring reduced slag in
the ladle before sending the heat to VD unit and enhanced de-sulphurisation is caused by slag-metal mixing.

Vacuum arc degassing (VAD) unit


This is a single station unit in which the ladle sits in a vacuum tank and is stirred by inert gas through porous plug at
the bottom with provision for heating through electrodes and alloying additions. After addition of lime in the molten
steel ladle, arcing is carried out at 250 Torr 300 Torr to raise the temperature & fuse the lime followed by short
duration degassing, additions for chemistry adjustment and deep degassing to pressures as low as 1 Torr. Argon

stirring is continued in all the operational steps and the adjustment of flow rate is done for varied operations carried
out during processing. The heating rate is about 3C 4 C/min and during heating, argon flow rate is kept on the
lower side. In this system, under vacuum, carbon-oxygen reaction and carbon-Al2O3 reaction under the high
temperature arc are of great help in achieving low oxygen content without any solid reaction product. Hydrogen
levels as low as 1.5 ppm are achieved caused by intense mass transfer by argon and low partial pressure of
hydrogen because of dilution of liberated carbon monoxide. The greatest advantage of this process is the high
degree of de-sulphurisation as high as 80% for production of steels with sulphur levels as low as 0.005%. VAD is
now a widely used method of producing clean steels in the world.

ASEA SKF unit


It is a process which possesses integrated group of treatment stations usually consisting of separate de-slagging,
arc heating and vcuum treatment stations. Here, slag is removed by re-ladling to prevent re-phosphorisation after
which ferro-alloy addition is carried out. Arc heating is done to raise temperature for compensating the cooling effect
of the alloying additions followed by degassing in a vacuum atmosphere for reducing the oxygen content and dehydrogenation for achieving hydrogen contents as low as 1.5 ppm. The method involves application of electromagnetic stirring which helps in floating inclusions and result in production of clean steels. Presently, ASEA-SKF
units have incorporated basal inert gas stirring to enable de-sulphurisation.

Vaccum oxygen de-carburization (VOD) unit


This is considered to be an important vacuum process for production of stainless steel. It is particularly suitable for
special stainless steels that require the lowest carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen levels. In this process, the ladle is
placed in vacuum chamber and there is a provision for oxygen lancing through vacuum tight gland and alloying
additions. Basically, the method involves preferential oxidation of carbon over chromium leading to minimum
chromium losses. Due to reduced freeboard available in the ladle, the initial carbon content of the melt should be as
low as 1%. Here, oxygen injection is carried out at 100 torr 250 torr. Silicon is oxidized followed by carbon. Decarburisation occurs through start of co bubbling determined by initial temperature and silicon content of the liquid
bath. Constant rate of de-carburization occurs depending on the oxygen flow rate. The CO:CO2 ratio is monitored
and a bath carbon content of 0.08%, it increases rapidly. So, beyond this limiting carbon percentage, decarburization rate falls independent of oxygen flow rate with simultaneous chromium oxidation. Oxygen lancing is
ceased and the vessel pressure is reduced and argon stirring is carried out further to the reaction between the
dissolved oxygen and the remaining carbon. It has been reported that through vigorous stirring carbon can be
reduced to levels of 0.005% and total (Carbon + Nitrogen) less than 0.015% are achieved. The refining sequence in
general is controlled by combination of variation in oxygen flow rate, the lance tip bath surface distance, control of
vacuum pressure and the argon flow rate. Addition of sufficient amount of lime and aluminum helps in excellent desulphurisation of the melt. Stream degassers One of the prominent stream degassing techniques is Tap Degassing
where in the metal from the furnace is tapped into a small ladle which is seated on a vacuum tight seal on a vacuum
tank containing a second ladle. Here, the stream is broken up in the vacuum chamber giving fine dispersion of
droplets which provide highly efficient degassing. Another type of stream degassing is pouring the liquid steel
through refractory stream limiter device in ingot moulds located in a vacuum tank. This is applied for heavy steel
forgings. Injection systems The injection systems are broadly classified as Gas injection with synthetic slag treatment
system, Powder injection system and Cored Wire injection system. Gas injection with synthetic slag treatment In this
process, a lime based slag mixture is added to the de-oxidised carry over slag to produce suitable basic top slag
possessing high sulphide capacity. Argon or Nitrogen is injected into the melt to impart requisite stirring energy for
better slag-metal reaction. De-sulphurisation to the tune of 70% is achieved through addition of aluminum. The
difficulty with this system is the prolonged treatment time to the tune of 20 min 25 min for effective desulphurisation resulting in temperature drop coupled with chances of hydrogen pick up from the lime based slag.
Powder Injection systems In this system, T type refractory coated lances are used which are inserted in ladle with
provision for argon purging. Here, powders like lime based reagents (CaO-CaF2-Al2O3), calcium carbide, lime
based flux with calcium silicide etc. are injected through these lances by powder dispenser. Low argon flow rates are
applied during injection to result in less splashing and higher retention time of the reactant in steel due to decreased
plume velocity. This process helps in excellent de-sulphurisation, de-oxidation and inclusion control for production of
clean steels. Cored wire injection systems This injection system has evolved as a widely acceptable one in the world
today. Cored wire is used for injecting aluminium, calcium, calcium silicide, sulphur etc. It is made up of a low carbon
steel sheath into which the powdered element or alloy to be injected is encased. It is generally injected by means of
an uncoiler, a feeder and a guide tube vertically into the ladle containing the molten steel. This system do not require
a carrier gas and hence the turbulence is lower and nitrogen pick up is lesser. The important parameters that control
the wire feeding is the wire diameter and the feed rate. Commonly, wire diameter of 9 mm to 13 mm are applied with
wire feed rate ranging from 100 350 mts/min. The advantages of this system is better alloy recovery as well as
effective inclusion shape control. Highly oxidisable elements like calcium and aluminium are fed through cored wire
leading to improved alloy recovery. For high sulphur bearing steels, sulphur cored wire injection provides better
recovery of sulphur and ease in heat making. Calcium silicide cored wire injection helps in better recovery of calcium
helping in modification of sulphide inclusions coupled with calcium aluminate formation avoiding nozzle clogging in

caster caused by high aluminum in steels. Conclusions The growth of secondary steel making led to the
development of new steel products which enhanced the competitive position of steel. Continuous developments in
the area of secondary steel making are taking place for improving the productivity, quality of the steel products and
improving the overall economics of steel production in the world.