Test runs commencing at the voestalpine direct-reduction plant in Texas

Construction of voestalpine's direct-reduction plant in Corpus Christi, Texas, is entering its final phase. The project is the largest investment to date by an Austrian company in the US. The plant is now in its last stages of assembly, with process control engineering being installed and selected plant parts already seeing test runs. It is therefore expected that the plant will commence operations largely on schedule over the course of summer 2016. Beginning with the next business year, the plant will produce two million tons of high-quality HBI (hot-briquetted iron, "sponge iron") for use as a sophisticated pre-material in steelmaking each year. For voestalpine, this represents another significant step in the expansion into the NAFTA area. The group currently operates 64 sites with around 3,000 employees in the free-trade area and generated a sales volume of roughly 1 billion euros last business year.

The new plant is a demonstration of voestalpine's larger strategy towards internationalization outside of Europe with focus on the NAFTA area (Canada, US, Mexico). The group aims to triple its sales volume to 3 billion euros in the area until 2020. "As the world's largest and most modern of its kind, the direct-reduction plant for the production of high-quality HBI in Corpus Christi will play a major part in achieving voestalpine's sales targets in North America. We expect the plant to go into operation in the coming summer months," says Wolfgang Eder, Chairman of the Management Board of voestalpine AG. Several long-term supply agreements have already been signed with well-known customers in the NAFTA area and Europe, most recently with the Mexican steel producer TYASA. Combined with voestalpine's own use of 800,000 tons of HBI each year, this means that 80 % of the plant's capacities have already been allocated.

First plant units in operation

With construction of the plant's core part, the reduction tower at 137 m height, completed, the focus is now on final assembly of electrical engineering, piping, and conveyor systems. Several plant units have already successfully completed trial operation. Test runs will progressively be extended to the entire plant before the coming summer months will see the plant's runup. The quay of the on-site port is operational and three loading cranes located there are currently undergoing final tests. The first freighter will dock at the port at the end of April and is currently on its way from Brazil to Texas with 120,000 tons of ore pellets. These will provide the necessary material for the plant's test run and startup during the summer months.

600 million US dollars local added value

In the coming ten years, the new site will create added value of up to 600 million US dollars and 150 long-term jobs in the region. Virtually the entire future permanent staff of the plant has already been recruited. At the moment, around 1,000 people work on the construction site, a decrease from the 2,300 at the beginning of 2016. With its production of the comparatively cheap but high-quality pre-material HBI, the new plant in Corpus Christi will make a major contribution towards securing the continued success of the Austrian steel sites Linz and Donawitz. The plant is also one step ahead in eco-friendliness: It uses natural gas instead of coal and employs the latest technologies in water treatment and reduction of dust emissions. This makes it one of the cleanest plants in and beyond the NAFTA area.

voestalpine in the NAFTA area

In the business year 2014/15, 9 percent of voestalpine's total sales of 11.2 billion euros were generated by 3,000 employees at 64 sites in the NAFTA countries Canada, the US, and Mexico. In the US alone, 2,400 employees achieved sales of 810 million euros. The most important rising markets in the NAFTA area are the automotive and railway infrastructure industries. In the US, the group's largest individual company is voestalpine Nortrak, whose 1,000 employees and seven production sites make it North America's market and technology leader in turnout technology. Additionally, the group is also well represented in the special steels, oil/gas, and aerospace sectors. Currently, around 13 % of voestalpine shares are owned by North American investors.