Future outlook for the FerroAlloys industryMetalist
2.6 Future outlook for the FerroAlloys industry
Progress in the ferroalloys industry has closely followed developments in the steel industry, and this course will continue. The rapid growth in stainless steel use has driven a corresponding growth at least for chromium (FeCr) and nickel (Ni, FeNi, NiO): the average annual growth rate in this sector has been more than 5%. The demand for stainless steel has increased, particularly in China and India, the two largest countries by population. Such growth is assumed to continue, at least in India, and to extend to other developing regions in Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.
As the history of high-tonnage production is quite short, the amount of recycled stainless steel is limited, which means there will be a growing demand for primary alloying materials, especially Cr, Ni, and Mo. Concerning the other bulk ferroalloys FeMn, FeSi, and SiMn, the demand is bound more to low-alloyed carbon steels. Growth has been more moderate, 2% per year on average. Future growth is expected to take place almost solely in developing countries. At a 2% growth rate, the annual production of steel worldwide will exceed 2500 MT by the 2040s, which means there will also be remarkable growth in different sectors of the ferroalloys industry.
What will be the requirements for the grades and quality of ferroalloys in the future? The base compositions of bulk ferroalloys come from the reconciliation of raw materials, production technology, and customers’ wishes and requirements. A common meeting point for the seller and buyer is money (i.e., ost, price, and utility value). Especially in high-alloyed steels, the contents of major components (Cr, Mn, Si, etc.) and minor components (generally carbon, in FeCr silicon) have a strong influence on the processing time, slag, temperature control, and other details. These components are difficult to evaluate today but will become more critical in the future. A component regarded as an impurity, such as phosphorus, can be critical in stainless steel making, as its removal is practically impossible, whereas the amount of sulfur is relatively easy to decrease in the later stage of the converter process or even in the ladle stage. Concerning alloying and trimming additions in later process stages, typically in ladles, high contents of the alloy metal are important (e.g., in FeCr, FeMn, FeSi) to minimize the total addition. Depending on the steel grade to be produced, metallic impurities can be critical (e.g., aluminum and titanium) because they influence inclusions in steel and can cause problems in casting. Of course, gaseous components (nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen) are important; most often, high contents are harmful, causing problems in different stages of the steel-making process until the final product is generated.
In 2009, Holappa (2010) surveyed worldwide experts in the field of ferroalloys production to ask about the importance of different factors concerning the sustainable production of ferroalloys. The 17 responses represented almost the same number of enterprises or institutions on six continents that dealt with central ferroalloys (FeCr, FeMn, FeSi). The survey consisted of questions concerning raw materials and pretreatment, energy issues, environmental issues, by-products, and economic aspects. Almost all the issues presented were regarded as important, and respondents believed their value would grow until 2020. Electric energy was ranked first among all factors. Economic issues (investment and operation costs, energy cost) had the next highest ranking, probably partly reflecting the recession that prevailed when the questionnaire was distributed. The next most important issue was energy efficiency, which included CO utilization, raw materials pretreatment (sintering/pelletizing), and emissions in air and water, almost all of which were given the same high weight. Overall, the ferroalloys industry has numerous challenges ahead, and it must undergo technological modernization and in-depth transformation in consideration of environmental issues. On the other hand, it is a rapidly and steadily growing branch, which makes regeneration easier and gives it the most potential.