Sign of quality№ 2 November 2018
For a long time it went without saying that the steel industry was worse than all others for adversely affecting the environment. But now steelmakers are among the biggest investors in environmentally friendly technologies. Here we examine what made them start to care about the natural world and how the quality of their output is affected.
For many years, the environment was simply not something that Russian industry concerned itself with. In Soviet times, the country needed steel; when the USSR collapsed, the steelmaking giants had to learn to survive in new economic conditions. At first, there was no time to worry about nature; then there was no money. Nowadays the environmental component is integral to all modern business and part of becoming competitive.
Line up for sustainable development
Environmental protection is part of a sustainability concept which is integral to Metalloinvest’s long-term strategy - a key factor in its future competitiveness.
The whole world now acknowledges the priority of saving the climate, cutting emissions and reducing human impact on the environment. Consumers prefer environmentally friendly products and, increasingly, they look at the whole of the production chain. We have become accustomed to wondering, when we buy milk, what the cows were fed on. We accept as a matter of course that vegetables are more expensive if they are organic and free from chemicals. The same goes in other areas too: people won’t buy a car if it is made of steel produced in polluting factories. Investors won’t buy corporate bonds from a company which damages the environment.
CEO of Management Company Metalloinvest
Sustainable development is more than just fine words. It has proper scientific and economic grounding. In line with the UN World Commission on Environment and Development definition, sustainable development means development which improves people’s living conditions without exceeding the capacity of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities. The term has a quite concrete meaning in the context of business. It means engaging in economic activity without causing irreversible changes to the natural world or jeopardising your ongoing presence in the region.
Accordingly, no company can achieve qualitative long-term growth unless:
the regions where it is present enjoy socio-economic stability;
the interests of all stakeholders - employees, local residents, partners, consumers, investors, financial institutions and the state - are in balance.
This is why major steelmakers voluntarily undertake annual investments in environmental programmes. Metalloinvest, for example, invests over six billion roubles every year in such projects.
The Oskol Electrometallurgical Plant (OEMK) in Belgorod region is to set up a facility to manufacture 70,000 tonnes of SBQ steel annually. Part of the finishing plant, it will be an addition to OEMK’s heat treatment facility.
The project, costing around 3 billion roubles, will include the construction of a building to house the new facility, two heat treatment furnaces, installation of lifting and handling equipment and all associated infrastructure. The first furnace is planned to enter service in 2019 and the second in 2020.
In any large company, environmental protection depends on a systematic approach. Therefore, the major players in the steel business are introducing environmental management systems (EMS). Metalloinvest operates an ISO 14001 EMS with planned and recertification audits. All the Company’s major businesses - Lebedinsky GOK, Mikhailovsky GOK, OEMK and Ural Steel - retained ISO 14001 certification in 2017.
Large enterprises are audited in detail. At Lebedinsky GOK, for example, experts from the environmental audit company Econedroconsult made:
site visits to the crushing and sorting, beneficiation and pellet, and HBI plants,
examinations of documentation and
assessments of work stations and the environment.
The audit showed the company’s EMS to be compliant with the international standard. Its industrial processes and products are environmentally safe.
“Recertification against international and national standards is voluntary. Lebedinsky GOK’s thorough and open approach underlines the company’s social responsibility and reflects the priorities of management,” said the head of Econedroconsult, Galina Petrenko. “The certificate is proof of compliance with the international standard on the use of natural resources. It shows that Lebedinsky GOK is operating in accordance with the company’s mandatory environmental policy.”
Lebedinsky GOK’s certificate is valid for 12 years with recertification every three years.
Environmentally friendly raw materials
The environment is already a significant factor in projects currently underway to modernise old and create new facilities. Lebedinsky GOK commissioned its HBI-3 Plant - one of the world’s largest using MIDREX technology - in 2017 as part of the Russian Federation Year of Ecology.
The HBI process is currently the most environmentally friendly way of obtaining iron. It eliminates the emissions associated with the production of coke, agglomerate and pig iron, and solid residue in the form of slag. By comparison with pig iron production, the HBI process is 35% cheaper in terms of energy and emits 60% less greenhouse gases.
“Lebedinsky GOK is uniquely well suited to the creation of a complex and expensive HBI facility - it combines a rich resource base, efficient iron ore beneficiation capacity, and access to energy and gas pipelines,” says Andrey Varichev. “The decision to build HBI-1 in the late 1990s was bold - even revolutionary - but has been vindicated by experience.”
The focus on the environment also creates new opportunities for producers to strengthen their position in the market for high-value-added products. “Which primarily means SBQ steels,” explains Andrey Varichev. “Metalloinvest is in a position to offer customers SBQ produced with minimal environmental impact at all stages of the process from ore mining at the Lebedinsky GOK mine to direct reduction of iron and steel smelting in OEMK’s electric furnaces.”
Hot briquetted iron (HBI) is an innovative raw material. It is over 90% iron, chemically consistent and over 93% metallised. It is obtained by direct reduction of iron in ore pellets. First the pellets are sent to furnaces where the iron is reduced by reducing gas consisting of a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The reduced pellets are sent still hot to roller presses and formed into briquettes at high temperature (ca. 700°C) and pressure.
OEMK’s billion-tonne industrial waste burial facility has a liner to prevent water from precipitation leaching through the waste and into the soil. The liner extends under the waste disposal area, leachate pond and surrounding runoffs. It consists of a compacted base, a 450 gsm geotextile, a 1.5 mm geomembrane and 0.2 m of clay soil topped by a protective layer of 0.3 m of sand. To prevent pollution of the environment, dusty waste is sprayed with water and layers of waste are separated by layers of soil. The compacted waste will be buried under half a metre of sandy soil and clay.
Metalloinvest invests annually in plant modernisation, the latest filters and systems to clean up waste gases and water, and land rehabilitation. Analysis by independent laboratories confirms that the Company’s businesses are well under the environmental impact limits prescribed by law.
“By using the latest environmental protection technologies we can reduce our operating costs,” says Andrey Varichev. “In 2015, we commissioned the Pellet Plant #3 at Mikhailovsky GOK. It is fired by gas recovered from the ore pellet reduction process. Process water is recycled. Consequently, we reduce both emissions and our energy costs.”
In 2017, the amount of water recycled by Metalloinvest businesses increased by 3.3% to over three billion cubic metres. Process water is recovered and stored in special reservoirs to prevent it from leaking into the soil.
At OEMK, following modernisation of the gas-cleaning plant, atmospheric emissions have been reduced by 2.5 times and the concentration of dust in gas emissions 3-fold.
Dust is a major challenge for environmental officers at Metalloinvest’s mining and beneficiation plants. Dust control measures, including regular spraying from light aircraft, and sanitary, hygienic and biological rehabilitation of stockpiles and disposal areas, reduce dust formation considerably. At each plant, environmental officers monitor atmospheric air in working areas, at the boundary of the sanitary protection zone and in adjacent residential areas.
In the last decade, atmospheric emissions have been successfully cut by a third at Ural Steel.
Environmental protection measures have led to an 85% reduction in the amount of dust in the air at Lebedinsky GOK. Work has been done to reduce emissions and waste at Mikhailovsky GOK. Thanks to these efforts, Metalloinvest’s impact on the environment is significantly lower than the state’s acceptable limits.
In recent years the Company’s businesses have adopted the practice of burying industrial waste in designated areas. Landfill sites are designed to meet all environmental protection requirements by using the latest technological and design solutions and low-permeability materials.
Over recent years, Lebedinsky GOK’s light aircrafts have conducted “ecological flights” as part of its dust control measures
“Our specialists,” said Elena Timofeyeva, state inspector at the Orenburg regional directorate of the Federal Service for Supervision of the Use of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) “appreciate Metalloinvest’s principled attitude to waste. As of today, they are one of the few Russian companies to have addressed industrial waste disposal in a civilised way at plants including Ural Steel. Building an environmentally friendly facility costs time and effort, but is very necessary to improve the environment in the region and the country as a whole.”
At the Ural Steel landfill site, a drainage system has been installed underneath the petroleum-containing waste disposal area to keep pollutants from entering the ground water. A system of channels over the whole site collects and removes meltwater and precipitation. To assess the site’s impact on the environment, a number of water monitoring wells have been established. There are also video surveillance and fire suppression systems. All waste entering the site is automatically recorded at the entrance and is sorted before being deposited. Waste contaminated with oil is decontaminated at a special site.