Research & development: pioneering innovations for environmental protection 3 minutes spent reading

Research & development: pioneering innovations for environmental protection

Volkmar Held
As a freelance writer, Volkmar Held reports for voestalpine on topics that move people. The content of his stories ranges from archaeometallurgy to future technologies.

Research projects on voestalpine production processes and products promote the efficient use of resources, effectively contributing to environmental protection.

Research and development (R&D), energy efficiency, and environmental compatibility are all top priorities at voestalpine. Consequently, a large share of the research budget (a record EUR 159 million in BY 2017/18) flows directly or indirectly into environmental protection.

In the center of R&D

Research and development within the Group means:

  • Developing new and improved products
  • Optimizing resource utilization in existing processes
  • Developing new processes where it is not possible to optimize existing technologies

The focus of these three key areas is on diverse measures that expand the company’s industry technology leadership, further optimize processes in terms of energy and resource efficiency, and continue to reduce emissions. Special emphasis is placed on life cycle assessment (also known as ecobalance), which means assessing a product’s life from raw material extraction and production to recycling. Here are a few select examples:

Resource-conserving product development

In the mobility industries, lighter steel-based materials directly help to save operating power. The stronger a material is, the less of it has to be used. In the past, voestalpine research activities in this area have led to the development of technologies such as ultraform® and directform®. Such technologies, and the development of weight-saving hybrid components for automobility and high-strength forged parts made of non-ferrous metal in the aerospace sector, will lead to further weight-saving potential.

By improving the high-temperature properties of materials, voestalpine R&D helps increase the efficiency of turbines in the energy sector (power plants) and in aircraft production (turbine components). This allows higher power to be achieved with the same amount of energy.

The development of state-of-the-art, intelligent turnout systems and rail grades optimized for their specific application result in considerably longer replacement intervals. Even here it is possible to more efficiently utilize natural resources.

Process optimization for the environment

Protecting resources, and ultimately the environment, is one of the central aspects of R&D projects on optimizing production processes. One such project is researching more flexible use of alternative reducing agents in blast furnaces. If reducing agents such as coal dust can be blown in with the hot air of the blast furnaces, the coke component of the blast furnace input material can be reduced. This means that less coke (which takes a lot of energy to produce) will be used per ton of pig iron—added value for the environment. Additional value can be gained via measurement methods that map the state of the input material in real time, making it possible to optimize blast furnace operation. These are all results of current voestalpine R&D projects.

Environmentally responsible handling of the by-products of steel production is also part of sustainable use of resources. In the research project “Recycling of steel slag”, for example, voestalpine BÖHLER Edelstahl GmbH is looking into whether metal components (in the form of metal oxides) can be recycled from slag and reused in steel metallurgy. Different recycling methods are being examined to determine how steel slag can be reused in other ways.

Environmental protection for the future

Worldwide legal initiatives to protect our environment directly impact iron and steel production. Imposed reductions, e.g. of carbon emissions, also pose challenges for voestalpine. Process-related emissions can only be reduced to the point at which technical limitations resulting from the laws of nature are not exceeded. That is why R&D at voestalpine focuses on processes that could be suitable for the future and replace coal as the reducing agent during pig iron production, yet still be economically and ecologically sound. Process optimization of HBI production (at the plant in Corpus Christi, Texas, USA) and the construction of what is currently the world’s largest electrolysis plant for CO2-free production of hydrogen are just two examples of how research and development at voestalpine is on course for the future, also in terms of environmental protection.

More tho the issue environment:

Volkmar Held