As global steel production continues to decline, energy
efficient products were under the spotlight at the
14th Unified International Technical Conference
on Refractories (UNITECR) conference in Vienna, Austria this
Almatis’ global technical director of
refractories, Andreas Buhr, told IM that
refractories producers are increasingly focusing on
manufacturing products that will reduce their
customer’s carbon emissions and save energy.
The focus on energy efficiency is likely to continue to be a
priority going forward with companies becoming more interested
in comparing differences in energy losses between various
refractory lining concepts.
"15 years ago it was only the lining life of the refractory
that was focused on," Buhr told IM. "Now, the
way you make energy losses or energy savings are part of the
process and not just the lining’s lifespan."
Slovenia-based, monolithics specialist, Seven Refractories
is also noticing a trend for optimising energy efficiencies and
minimising resource usage and gas emissions.
In response to customer requirements in this area, the
company's CEO, Erik Zobec, told IM that Seven
Refractories has worked on developing on the most
environmentally-friendly, alumina-based taphole clays available
on the market.
"The overwhelmingly positive response from steel companies
shows us that there is a huge interest and demand in the
industry," Zobec said, adding that the company hopes to
lead by example in terms of energy reduction in its production
"We not only strive to make our products more
environmentally-friendly, but also our production. How can you
be a green company if you do not do the job at your own home?
We are working towards zero carbon emissions for our plant in
Divaca, Slovenia," Zobec told IM.
The company was formed just five years ago. During its
launch, the company centred its attention on the development of
original products to set it apart from other competitors in the
Zobec told IM that Seven Refractories
chose to focus on monolithics owing to their energy advantages
"Number one, you do not need to fire them and you heat up
your refractory materials within the process. To consume bricks
you consume a lot of energy," Buhr explained.
"Second, we mainly sell our monolithics within a range of a
couple of thousand kilometres. Essentially they are
domestically used, whereas bricks take longer to produce and
tend to be shipped over long distances," he added.
Zobec explained that the raw materials are
sourced "as closely as possible".
He added: "Our monolithics are sold and
shipped globally from the very close harbours of Koper and
As well as energy reductions, declining global steel
production was greatly discussed at UNITECR this year.
Around 60-70% of the world’s refractories are
used in steel making, while the rest are mostly consumed in the
manufacturing of iron, cement, glass and non-ferrous
According to the World Steel Association (worldsteel) demand
for global steel between 2015-2016 is anticipated to remain
slow. Hans-Jurgen Kerkhoff, president of the German Steel
Federation, noted that these predictions are in line with
current trends, as with the exception of India, steel output
fell in all key markets.
Delegates at the UNITECR conference also heard how the
market environment in the past half year has been characterised
by an aggressive export strategy by Chinese producers as a
result of a weak domestic market and high excess
This has led to high pressure on steel prices and,
consequently, the profitability of manufacturers and further on
suppliers. In many markets, anti-dumping duties are intensively
discussed as a response to massively growing Chinese imports
and have in some cases have already been introduced.
Despite a challenging steel market, Buhr said that the
development of new high purity steel grades over the past few
years is having a positive impact on refractory
He outlined that further opportunities were being created by
an increased appetite for low impurity steel from the
automobile sector. The increased awareness of energy losses and
cost saving has also driven demand for better refractory lining
concepts – an issue which was not a concern 20
Examples of steel technology movements are basic oxygen
furnaces (BOF) replacing open hearth furnaces, the introduction
of continuous casting and the growth of secondary metallurgy
performed in steel ladles, Buhr said.
Separately, the opening of the Iranian economy to foreign
investment and trade with the West was another hotly discussed
Alteo’s director of marketing, Mike Rodgers,
and Seven Refractories’ Zobec both agreed that US
President Barack Obama’s lifting of trade
sanctions against Iran will bring positive benefits to the
refractories industry as it will open a market that was
previously closed to the sector.
Refractories, engineered products or
Also debated at the conference was the question of whether
refractories fell into the commodity bracket or into the
engineered product category.
While Buhr argued that refractories were engineered products
themselves, sales contracts in the industry are currently
handled like commodities.
"In relation to the steel industry, if they really want to
get the best economic result for their plant then they must be
careful not to easily go down the commodity route because they
could be shooting themselves in the foot as they will not get
the best solution," he said during a debate on the matter on
the penultimate day of the event.