Electric Arc Furnace Steelmaking

By Jeremy A. T. Jones, Nupro Corporation


Courtesy of Mannesmann Demag Corp.

FURNACE OPERATIONS

The electric arc furnace operates as a batch melting process producing batches of molten steel known "heats". The electric arc furnace operating cycle is called the tap-to-tap cycle and is made up of the following operations:

Modern operations aim for a tap-to-tap time of less than 60 minutes. Some twin shell furnace operations are achieving tap-to-tap times of 35 to 40 minutes.

Furnace Charging

The first step in the production of any heat is to select the grade of steel to be made. Usually a schedule is developed prior to each production shift. Thus the melter will know in advance the schedule for his shift. The scrap yard operator will prepare buckets of scrap according to the needs of the melter. Preparation of the charge bucket is an important operation, not only to ensure proper melt-in chemistry but also to ensure good melting conditions. The scrap must be layered in the bucket according to size and density to promote the rapid formation of a liquid pool of steel in the hearth while providing protection for the sidewalls and roof from electric arc radiation. Other considerations include minimization of scrap cave-ins which can break electrodes and ensuring that large heavy pieces of scrap do not lie directly in front of burner ports which would result in blow-back of the flame onto the water cooled panels. The charge can include lime and carbon or these can be injected into the furnace during the heat. Many operations add some lime and carbon in the scrap bucket and supplement this with injection.

The first step in any tap-to-tap cycle is "charging" into the scrap. The roof and electrodes are raised and are swung to the side of the furnace to allow the scrap charging crane to move a full bucket of scrap into place over the furnace. The bucket bottom is usually a clam shell design - i.e. the bucket opens up by retracting two segments on the bottom of the bucket. The scrap falls into the furnace and the scrap crane removes the scrap bucket. The roof and electrodes swing back into place over the furnace. The roof is lowered and then the electrodes are lowered to strike an arc on the scrap. This commences the melting portion of the cycle. The number of charge buckets of scrap required to produce a heat of steel is dependent primarily on the volume of the furnace and the scrap density. Most modern furnaces are designed to operate with a minimum of back-charges. This is advantageous because charging is a dead-time where the furnace does not have power on and therefore is not melting. Minimizing these dead-times helps to maximize the productivity of the furnace. In addition, energy is lost every time the furnace roof is opened. This can amount to 10 - 20 kWh/ton for each occurrence. Most operations aim for 2 to 3 buckets of scrap per heat and will attempt to blend their scrap to meet this requirement. Some operations achieve a single bucket charge. Continuous charging operations such as CONSTEEL and the Fuchs Shaft Furnace eliminate the charging cycle.

Melting

The melting period is the heart of EAF operations. The EAF has evolved into a highly efficient melting apparatus and modern designs are focused on maximizing the melting capacity of the EAF. Melting is accomplished by supplying energy to the furnace interior. This energy can be electrical or chemical. Electrical energy is supplied via the graphite electrodes and is usually the largest contributor in melting operations. Initially, an intermediate voltage tap is selected until the electrodes bore into the scrap. Usually, light scrap is placed on top of the charge to accelerate bore-in. Approximately 15 % of the scrap is melted during the initial bore-in period. After a few minutes, the electrodes will have penetrated the scrap sufficiently so that a long arc (high voltage) tap can be used without fear of radiation damage to the roof. The long arc maximizes the transfer of power to the scrap and a liquid pool of metal will form in the furnace hearth At the start of melting the arc is erratic and unstable. Wide swings in current are observed accompanied by rapid movement of the electrodes. As the furnace atmosphere heats up the arc stabilizes and once the molten pool is formed, the arc becomes quite stable and the average power input increases.

Chemical energy is be supplied via several sources including oxy-fuel burners and oxygen lances. Oxy-fuel burners burn natural gas using oxygen or a blend of oxygen and air. Heat is transferred to the scrap by flame radiation and convection by the hot products of combustion. Heat is transferred within the scrap by conduction. Large pieces of scrap take longer to melt into the bath than smaller pieces. In some operations, oxygen is injected via a consumable pipe lance to "cut" the scrap. The oxygen reacts with the hot scrap and burns iron to produce intense heat for cutting the scrap. Once a molten pool of steel is generated in the furnace, oxygen can be lanced directly into the bath. This oxygen will react with several components in the bath including, aluminum, silicon, manganese, phosphorus, carbon and iron. All of these reactions are exothermic (i.e. they generate heat) and supply additional energy to aid in the melting of the scrap. The metallic oxides that are formed will end up in the slag. The reaction of oxygen with carbon in the bath produces carbon monoxide, which either burns in the furnace if there is sufficient oxygen, and/or is exhausted through the direct evacuation system where it is burned and conveyed to the pollution control system. Auxiliary fuel operations are discussed in more detail in the section on EAF operations.

Once enough scrap has been melted to accommodate the second charge, the charging process is repeated. Once the final scrap charge is melted, the furnace sidewalls are exposed to intense radiation from the arc. As a result, the voltage must be reduced. Alternatively, creation of a foamy slag will allow the arc to be buried and will protect the furnace shell. In addition, a greater amount of energy will be retained in the slag and is transferred to the bath resulting in greater energy efficiency.

Once the final scrap charge is fully melted, flat bath conditions are reached. At this point, a bath temperature and sample will be taken. The analysis of the bath chemistry will allow the melter to determine the amount of oxygen to be blown during refining. At this point, the melter can also start to arrange for the bulk tap alloy additions to be made. These quantities are finalized after the refining period.

Refining

Refining operations in the electric arc furnace have traditionally involved the removal of phosphorus, sulfur, aluminum, silicon, manganese and carbon from the steel. In recent times, dissolved gases, especially hydrogen and nitrogen, been recognized as a concern. Traditionally, refining operations were carried out following meltdown i.e. once a flat bath was achieved. These refining reactions are all dependent on the availability of oxygen. Oxygen was lanced at the end of meltdown to lower the bath carbon content to the desired level for tapping. Most of the compounds which are to be removed during refining have a higher affinity for oxygen that the carbon. Thus the oxygen will preferentially react with these elements to form oxides which float out of the steel and into the slag.
In modern EAF operations, especially those operating with a "hot heel" of molten steel and slag retained from the prior heat, oxygen may be blown into the bath throughout most of the heat. As a result, some of the melting and refining operations occur simultaneously.

Phosphorus and sulfur occur normally in the furnace charge in higher concentrations than are generally permitted in steel and must be removed. Unfortunately the conditions favorable for removing phosphorus are the opposite of those promoting the removal of sulfur. Therefore once these materials are pushed into the slag phase they may revert back into the steel. Phosphorus retention in the slag is a function of the bath temperature, the slag basicity and FeO levels in the slag. At higher temperature or low FeO levels, the phosphorus will revert from the slag back into the bath. Phosphorus removal is usually carried out as early as possible in the heat. Hot heel practice is very beneficial for phosphorus removal because oxygen can be lanced into the bath while its temperature is quite low. Early in the heat the slag will contain high FeO levels carried over from the previous heat thus aiding in phosphorus removal. High slag basicity (i.e. high lime content) is also beneficial for phosphorus removal but care must be taken not to saturate the slag with lime. This will lead to an increase in slag viscosity, which will make the slag less effective. Sometimes fluorspar is added to help fluidize the slag. Stirring the bath with inert gas is also beneficial because it renews the slag/metal interface thus improving the reaction kinetics.

In general, if low phosphorus levels are a requirement for a particular steel grade, the scrap is selected to give a low level at melt-in. The partition of phosphorus in the slag to phosphorus in the bath ranges from 5 to 15. Usually the phosphorus is reduced by 20 to 50 % in the EAF.

Sulfur is removed mainly as a sulfide dissolved in the slag. The sulfur partition between the slag and metal is dependent on slag chemistry and is favored at low steel oxidation levels. Removal of sulfur in the EAF is difficult especially given modern practices where the oxidation level of the bath is quite high. Generally the partition ratio is between 3 and 5 for EAF operations. Most operations find it more effective to carry out desulfurization during the reducing phase of steelmaking. This means that desulfurization is performed during tapping (where a calcium aluminate slag is built) and during ladle furnace operations. For reducing conditions where the bath has a much lower oxygen activity, distribution ratios for sulfur of between 20 and 100 can be achieved.

Control of the metallic constituents in the bath is important as it determines the properties of the final product. Usually, the melter will aim at lower levels in the bath than are specified for the final product. Oxygen reacts with aluminum, silicon and manganese to form metallic oxides, which are slag components. These metallics tend to react with oxygen before the carbon. They will also react with FeO resulting in a recovery of iron units to the bath. For example:

Mn + FeO = MnO + Fe
Manganese will typically be lowered to about 0.06 % in the bath.

The reaction of carbon with oxygen in the bath to produce CO is important as it supplies a less expensive form of energy to the bath, and performs several important refining reactions. In modern EAF operations, the combination of oxygen with carbon can supply between 30 and 40 % of the net heat input to the furnace. Evolution of carbon monoxide is very important for slag foaming. Coupled with a basic slag, CO bubbles are tapped in the slag causing it to "foam" and helping to bury the arc. This gives greatly improved thermal efficiency and allows the furnace to operate at high arc voltages even after a flat bath has been achieved. Burying the arc also helps to prevent nitrogen from being exposed to the arc where it can dissociate and enter into the steel.

If the CO is evolved within the steel bath, it helps to strip nitrogen and hydrogen from the steel. Nitrogen levels in steel as low as 50 ppm can be achieved in the furnace prior to tap. Bottom tapping is beneficial for maintaining low nitrogen levels because tapping is fast and a tight tap stream is maintained. A high oxygen potential in the steel is beneficial for low nitrogen levels and the heat should be tapped open as opposed to blocking the heat.
At 1600 C, the maximum solubility of nitrogen in pure iron is 450 ppm. Typically, the nitrogen levels in the steel following tapping are 80 - 100 ppm.

Decarburization is also beneficial for the removal of hydrogen. It has been demonstarted that decarburizing at a rate of 1 % per hour can lower hydrogen levels in the steel from 8 ppm down to 2 ppm in 10 minutes.
At the end of refining, a bath temperature measurement and a bath sample are taken. If the temperature is too low, power may be applied to the bath. This is not a big concern in modern meltshops where temperature adjustment is carried out in the ladle furnace.


De-Slagging

De-slagging operations are carried out to remove impurities from the furnace. During melting and refining operations, some of the undesirable materials within the bath are oxidized and enter the slag phase.
It is advantageous to remove as much phosphorus into the slag as early in the heat as possible (i.e. while the bath temperature is still low). The furnace is tilted backwards and slag is poured out of the furnace through the slag door. Removal of the slag eliminates the possibility of phosphorus reversion.
During slag foaming operations, carbon may be injected into the slag where it will reduce FeO to metallic iron and in the process produce carbon monoxide which helps foam the slag. If the high phosphorus slag has not been removed prior to this operation, phosphorus reversion will occur. During slag foaming, slag may overflow the sill level in the EAF and flow out of the slag door.

 The following table shows the typical constituents of an EAF slag:

Component Source Composition Range
CaO Charged 40 - 60 %
SiO2 Oxidation product 5 - 15 %
FeO Oxidation product 10 - 30 %
MgO Charged as dolomite 3 - 8 %
CaF2 Charged - slag fluidizer  
MnO Oxidation product 2 - 5%
S Absorbed from steel  
P Oxidation product  



Tapping

Once the desired steel composition and temperature are achieved in the furnace, the tap-hole is opened, the furnace is tilted, and the steel pours into a ladle for transfer to the next batch operation (usually a ladle furnace or ladle station). During the tapping process bulk alloy additions are made based on the bath analysis and the desired steel grade. De-oxidizers may be added to the steel to lower the oxygen content prior to further processing. This is commonly referred to as "blocking the heat" or "killing the steel". Common de-oxidizers are aluminum or silicon in the form of ferrosilicon or silicomanganese. Most carbon steel operations aim for minimal slag carry-over. A new slag cover is "built" during tapping. For ladle furnace operations, a calcium aluminate slag is a good choice for sulfur control. Slag forming compounds are added in the ladle at tap so that a slag cover is formed prior to transfer to the ladle furnace. Additional slag materials may be added at the ladle furnace if the slag cover is insufficient.


Furnace Turn-around

Furnace turn-around is the period following completion of tapping until the furnace is recharged for the next heat. During this period, the electrodes and roof are raised and the furnace lining is inspected for refractory damage. If necessary, repairs are made to the hearth, slag-line, tap-hole and spout. In the case of a bottom-tapping furnace, the taphole is filled with sand. Repairs to the furnace are made using gunned refractories or mud slingers. In most modern furnaces, the increased use of water-cooled panels has reduced the amount of patching or "fettling" required between heats. Many operations now switch out the furnace bottom on a regular basis (2 to 6 weeks) and perform the hearth maintenance off-line. This reduces the power-off time for the EAF and maximizes furnace productivity. Furnace turn-around time is generally the largest dead time (i.e. power off) period in the tap-to-tap cycle. With advances in furnace practices this has been reduced from 20 minutes to less than 5 minutes in some newer operations.