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Brussels, October 13, 2000

Announcement of a media briefing

Steel research: long-term benefits for the environment – and the consumer
Dunkirk (FR), 31 October 2000

Keywords: steel, innovation, environment

Additional material

‘Environmentally friendly steel industry’ may seem like an oxymoron, but scientific and technological research funded by the European Coal and Steel Community is making it happen. Join us on 31 October to see how. Whether it’s transforming hazardous waste into raw materials for high-performance magnets; improving safety, and reducing emissions and costs by using artificial intelligence1 (AI) to manage a blast furnace; decreasing energy consumption and CO2 output by up to 90% during direct strip casting; or making steel for car bodies more resistant to chipping, today’s research is having a long-term impact on both consumers and the environment

On 31 October, the research topics mentioned above will be the subject of a media briefing at the Usinor Group’s Sollac Atlantic steel plant in Dunkirk. They will be presented by the research scientists leading the projects, and include a visit to the blast furnace. After the presentations, the EU’s research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin, Francis Mer, chairman of the Usinor Group, and the presenting scientists will answer questions. Transport from Brussels to Dunkirk and back will be provided..

After a welcoming cup of coffee at Usinor’s steel plant outside Dunkirk, there will be a short video presentation of the first project, which uses artificial intelligence to monitor and control a blast furnace. Participants will then be taken to the control room to see the system in action, and on to a gallery overlooking the furnace. This vantage point is an excellent one to get a feel for the scale of the furnace and, equally, to see the molten iron pour out of it when released. But why use AI for a blast furnace at all?

Using artificial intelligenceto control a blast furnace

The fact is that to manage a blast furnace effectively requires too much data for human processing. The project developed by Usinor’s advanced data processing unit uses rules built into an expert system to monitor 3350 variables every minute, giving warnings and recommendations based on these. The warnings of possible anomalies make operations safer, while the overall effect is to produce better stability and a higher-quality product needing less reprocessing, and give the blast furnace itself a longer life. The savings obtained have already exceeded expectations and run into millions of euros per year – for each site! The system, which has been patented, is beginning to find application in other continuous processes outside the steel industry, too.

After lunch, three more projects will be presented.

Better quality steel for the automobile industry

Galvannealing is a process that yields good results: a surface suitable for painting and resistant to corrosion, at a reasonable price. Small wonder that most of the steel used to press car parts is galvannealed. But it has some weak points. During pressing the protective surface layer can deteriorate, and, once the steel has become part of a car, stones flung up from the road can chip small pieces away leaving unprotected steel exposed to corrosive elements such as water and road salt. This project, led by the Centre for Research in Metallurgy (CRM, Belgium), has resulted in a new thermal treatment which addresses those weak points leading to a better product and a 30% increase in productivity for the steel maker. It also reduces wear and tear on the auto-maker’s tools and gives the consumer a car with a longer life. The process is already in production and has seen rapid take-up by the auto industry.

From hazardous waste to high-performance magnets

One of the unavoidable by-products of steel production is iron oxide sludge, a hazardous waste product resulting from the regeneration of the hydrochloric acid used for ‘pickling’ the steel. Traditionally this sludge was roasted for 45 minutes in a rotary kiln using large quantities of energy. The project, coordinated by EKO Stahl GmbH (Germany), has developed a vertical ‘flash’ treatment lasting only three seconds (for the same volume of sludge) which is also cleaner, requires less space, uses less energy and is easier to control. The resulting ferrite powder will form an excellent raw material for high-performance permanent magnets.

More economic direct strip casting

A traditional strip casting steel line is 800-1000 metres long and uses vast quantities of energy with proportionally large CO2 emissions. A project consortium led by Salzgitter AG (Germany) has developed a process which takes up only a fraction of the space and reduces energy consumption and CO2 production during the casting and rolling process by up to 90% (compared with slab production; 50% vs. thin slab production). Using a protective, neutral atmosphere the process makes better use of scrap steel as input than conventional processes, and gives better surface and mechanical properties. It has application for the auto, shipbuilding and aeronautics industries.

Practical details

The presentations will be in French or English (see attachment) with interpretation into French where required; questions can be in either French or English, with interpretation. For security reasons as well as space limitations, if you would like to attend this briefing, you must register in advance. To register, and for practical information regarding the briefing, please contact one of the people mentioned below.

For further information, please contact:

Stephen Gosden, Communication Unit, Research DG,
Tel: +, E-mail:

Michael Delle Selve, Communication Unit, Research DG,
Tel: +, E-mail:

For project-related information, please contact:

Pierre Meriguet, Steel Sector, Research DG,
Tel: +, E-mail:

See also: Growth research - New and improved materials and production technologies in the steel field

Media Briefing on Steel Research

31 October 2000
Sollac/Usinor steel plant, Dunkirk (FR)

Draft agenda

09:30 Leave Brussels by coach  
11:40 Arrive in Dunkirk Welcome: F. Mer (Chairman, Usinor Group) and P. Gugliermina (Sollac Atlantic, Dunkirk)
12:00 Presentation of Sachem project – using AI to control a blast furnace – and visit to the furnace. Claude-Charles Thirion, Usinor Information Systems
13:30 Buffet lunch  
14:40 Presentation of research projects Introduction: Mr Ezio Andreta, Director, Competitive and Sustainable Growth, Research Directorate-General, European Commission. 


  • S. Wilmotte, CRM (in French)
  • H. J. Hartmann, EKO Stahl (in English)
  • J. Kroos, Salzgitter (English)
  • C. Thirion, Usinor (French)
15:40 Conclusions Mr Philippe Busquin, EU Research Commissioner
15:50 Questions Messrs P. Busquin and F. Mer, and presenters
16:30 Return to Brussels  

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PRESS RELEASES | 31.10.2000