From reusing residual materials to extended product service life: at voestalpine sustainability is one of the outcomes of the Group’s research and development activities.
Optimizing products and production processes is one of the most important objectives of research and development, or R&D. A key factor in the research involves considering the sustainability aspects.
R&D for sustainability
With a record research budget of EUR 172.5 million in the current business year 2018/19, as a technology group voestalpine AG demonstrates the importance it places in R&D. This involvement pays off in the increased sustainability of both processes and production.
“The strong commitment to research and development at voestalpine also includes investing in process and product sustainability. As a result, we are living up to the highest standards of corporate responsibility.” Franz Androsch, Head of R&D at voestalpine AG
voestalpine is also the benchmark for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in its industry, just one outcome of this R&D activity. Process developments focus on improving energy and resource efficiency, reducing CO2, recycling residual materials, and steadily increasing quality.
The following is a selection of research and development projects carried out in recent years with a particular focus on sustainability:
New process design—“SuSteel”
The SuSteel research project, jointly undertaken by the Montanuniversität Leoben, the K1-MET competence center, and voestalpine, is working to create a direct reduction process which uses H2 plasma to transform iron oxide (ore) directly into steel. As a result, SuSteel is another project working towards substituting the reducing agent carbon for hydrogen, with the aim of drastically lowering process-related CO2 emissions during steel production.
Using residual materials
At voestalpine Stahl GmbH in Linz the production process creates around 120,000 tons of recyclable dust. The project is jointly run by the Montanuniversität Leoben, K1-MET, and voestalpine, and is designed to reuse the valuable substances in the dust, such as iron and zinc. Before establishing an industrial-scale pilot facility, the flash reactor is intended to demonstrate its suitability as a means of reintroducing metallurgical production dust into the production process.
Hydrochloric acids used in the pickling process can also be regenerated. An R&D project at voestalpine Stahl GmbH is enabling ultra-pure iron oxide, a by-product of the process, to be recovered. Supplying around 23,000 tons annually to the electronics industry worldwide, the company is Europe’s largest manufacturer of this source material for the production of ferrite cores.
Increased product service life
The 400 UHC® HSH® family of rail steels is a new product generation resulting from R&D at voestalpine Schienen GmbH. Compared to the heat-treated grade 350HT, resistance to wear, corrugation formation, and rolling contact fatigue are all increased by 100%. As a result, rail maintenance costs are halved, and the rail service life doubled: the life cycle costs (LCC) are significantly reduced.
Environmentally friendly production
Steel products such as steel strip can be passivated for greater corrosion resistance. In an R&D project run over several years, a team at voestalpine Stahl GmbH, working together with manufacturers, succeeded in developing a new compound for this passivation. It completely removes the need for chrome, and in doing so supports sustainability in two ways: by extending the service life of the passivated steel plates, and by avoiding the use of chrome which is damaging to health.