Materials.Business Weekly ⚙️

December 8, 2020

Quote of the week: “Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature” Yuan-Cheng Fung (Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Diego, 1919 – 2019).

From The Editor's Corner


Towards a suitable development

Bill Gates, one of the more recognized prophets of modern times, is speaking about the effect of steelmaking on climate change, and emphasizing that a huge amount of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere comes from this industry. He is asking for new inventions regarding cleaner ways of doing that and shows how one of his companies aimed at climate change fighting (Breakthrough Energy Ventures) is supporting efforts in that way through entrepreneurship dealing with iron production by electrolysis instead of reduction by coal. Recently, Gates also spoke on the need for such kind of answers encompassed the need for further socio-economic development -Source-. In other words, the situation is complex, and the challenge in front of climate change is much more than simply a sustainable development as has been enunciated from the beginning, some decades ago. Right now, on social issues, it is imperative to look at employability as one of the ways towards a more equitable world. Employability for all, without discrimination, more inclusive and diverse, but also more protective. Besides, people worldwide need easier access to quality materials as a way for better living places, and steel is a great opportunity. In addition to the cleaner steel, we need a better one, with greater mechanical resistance and corrosion, and also cheaper. Because a healthy economy needs a healthy steel industry, people ask for steel accessible to all and steelmakers seeking to maintain the quality of life of the workforce that is developing it and of the youngest who will come to do so.

The figures we are talking about

The estimations for 2019 are that the CO2 emission per capita, from fuels and industry in the world, was 4.18 tons emitted to the atmosphere. In total, 40.000 million tons of anthropogenic greenhouse gases were emitted to the planet last year (welcome Corona!). Almost 80 percent of these gases are carbon dioxide, and the global CO2 emission in 2019 was estimated at 34,000 million tons. Distribution by fossil fuel was coal (39.5%), oil (34.1%), gas (18.4%), and flaring (1%) -Source- . By region, the distribution was China (28%), the USA (15%), the EU (9%), and India (7%). And by economic sector, such responsibility is electricity (25%), agriculture (24%), manufacturing (21%), transportation (14%), buildings (6%), and miscellaneous (10%). Putting the magnifier in the manufacturing sector, the result is that cement, polymers, and steel production processes are the greater contributors. In particular, above 7% of the total CO2 emitted worldwide comes from the steelmaking process.

Further than greenhouse gases emissions, other serious environmental issues associated with steelmaking include a huge raw materials consumption (3.332 million tons of iron ore in 2017, in addition to lime, fuels, water, additives, and so on). As by-products, millions of tons of slag and other solid waste, and contaminated water. The result of such efforts (or sacrifice), in 2019, was a yearly production of 1.869 million tons of steel. Thereby, we are talking of a world per capita use of less than 200 kg of steel in 2019 (compared to 4.18 tons of CO2 generated). As always, this consumption varies from country to country. As an example, apparent finished steel use per capita in South Korea in 2018 was almost 1100 kg, over 400 kg in Russia, about 300 kg in Spain, and more than 100 kg in Brazil.

Taking as a piece of reference information from one of the more controlled steel industries, in the European Union, in 2006, 357 million tons of raw materials (126 million tons iron ore, 12 million tons scrap, 53.5 million tons coal, 32.2 million tons limestone, 17.7 million tons additives, and 5.3 million tons fuel) were used to produce 206 million tons of crude steel, matched to 151 million tons of off-gases and solid residues, and about 100 million m3 of wastewater. Accordingly, in 2019, the worldwide figures were at least 1370 million tons of off-gases and solid waste generated, and at least 907 million m3 of wastewater. Almost the total amount of drinking water supplied to the New Yorkers in the same period, who probably have the highest consumption of potable water globally.

From the economic point of view, on November 30th, 2020, the international average price of steel per ton of rebar was over $600 US dollars. Applying this price to the steel produced last year, worldwide, the total cost could be something like 1 x 1012 US dollars. A portion of this amount is distributed among its labor force. For instance, in the case of the European Union, one of the more efficient regions, the total number of employees in the steelmaking industry, in 2019 was 251.830. Global estimations are over six million people working in the steel industry.

Our ancestors’ legacy

The pathway to be here today, producing the steel that supports the development of the civilization, has been long and with a lot of intricacies. From the Asiatic Southeast and the Mediterranean and some other regions in the Globe, some millennials ago, when the Iron Age appeared. Since ancient times, the reduction of iron ores, by high-temperature processes has been a constant. In the beginning, just empirical knowledge. Wood for fuel, and charcoal, too, was a key raw material. Charcoal for high-temperature fueling, ore reduction, and Fe alloying. Several exploratory kinds of furnaces, passing by the bloomery and arriving in the blast furnace. Always under the leading and control by the blacksmith. And moving from bloom to billet, to bar, to fire welding, to coal, to coke, and so on. Many centuries passed until the XIX, when the Bessemer process revolutionized the industry, opening the steel era for the First Industrial Revolution and beyond. Empirical and scientific knowledge went ahead, closer each time, and we can explain most of the changes, thermodynamic and kinetics, happening at the steelwork today. The basic chemical reaction happening is the reduction of iron oxide by carbon monoxide, releasing metallic iron and emitting carbon dioxide, a reaction with some other alternatives, not well known yet. -Source-


As above-mentioned, nowadays the steel industry is the culprit of a very significant percentage of greenhouse emissions. There is a growing call to assume a total commitment to mitigate the environmental impact of steel production and manufacturing, handling natural resources more rationally, and improving the people’s quality of life through social and economic development. It is time for a great disruption. Fortunately, history is accelerated because knowledge grows exponentially, and this expected rational and planned scientific and technological transformation does not need to wait for more than some years, instead of centuries or millennia. As always, some skeptical people raise their voices to say that it is impossible to think of other iron ore reduction reactions or attempt to make other major changes in the process and the industry. But, as always, there are optimistic and innovative minds thinking about how to face the challenge, looking for alternative pathways, new technologies and services, design concepts and business models aligned with objectives like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of the Circular Economy strategy. Actions on raw materials, the process itself, and the pollutants emitted, the quality of the products and their life cycles, and the market are some of the main fronts that have been or must be assumed by researchers.

Concerning higher raw materials efficiency, their sources, and exploitation processes, some of the efforts are aimed at new natural deposits like in the seabed, at the moon, or other bodies in space. Also, options as urban mining have been proposed, and something related to the de-alloying of used steel. Developments on better management and handling of steelmaking emissions and byproducts are been done, as well. For instance, the option of CO2 is used as a substitute for crude oil. Or the realization that CO2 can be used as a trigger for stimulating changes in the properties of materials and substances like polymers, latexes, solvents, solutes, gels, surfactants, and catalysts. Moreover, solid waste fly ash from coal combustion, and slag from the steelmaking process, serve as clinker alternatives, decarbonizing and reducing steelmaking wastes. Much of the attempts have been done on new alloys with better behavior, included a higher corrosion resistance for longer life.

The most transcendental issues, perhaps the most difficult to change and where innovation seems most difficult, are concerning with a carbon-neutral (or even negative) steelmaking process, minimizing the carbon and coke usage in the raw materials. One of the considerations here is related to the electrification of the process. Nowadays, global industrial fuel consumption for energy generation is 66 million Tera joules, and most of them come from fossil fuels., in 2016, the US industrial sector consumed 24.5% of the total produced energy, and only 3.19% was electricity (most of it from coal). The other was mainly oil and gas. Nevertheless, considering the available technologies, currently, about 50 percent of the total energy generated can be substituted by electricity. One of the proposals, as the first step to industry electrification, taking simultaneous caring of financial and environmental goals, is initial partial electrification by hybrid equipment use.

Specific initiatives concerning the blast furnace and other steps of the production chain that have been followed by steelmakers include, from one side, strategies oriented to reduce CO2 emissions: Improvement of the blast furnace efficiency, use of biomass as reductant, and carbon capture and usage. On the other one, strategies searching full decarbonization: Maximizing recycling and using the electric arc furnace, direct reduction of iron and electric arc furnace using natural gas, and direct reduction and electric arc furnace using hydrogen. This last option involves three core steps: Green hydrogen production by electrolyzing water by electricity from renewable sources, Direct reduction by hydrogen (just with water as a by-product), and direct reduced iron melted together with steel scrap in an electric arc furnace using electricity from renewable sources (). As an example of these efforts, a consortium between the corporations SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall has started up the world’s first pilot plant for the production of fossil-free sponge iron, near to Luleå, Sweden. The project includes using natural gas and hydrogen to reduce iron ore, hydrogen production by electrolyzing water with fossil-free electricity, hydrogen store studies, and bio-oil to replace fossil oil in palletization manufacturing.

A more disruptive pathway is being researched by a group led by Prof. Philip de Goey of the Technical University of Eindhoven, Netherlands. This team is “trying to make the impossible possible” dealing with the combustion of metal powders. Consequently, they launched, some weeks ago, the first industrial combustion plant driven by iron-powder in the world! No CO2 is generated, only rust remains, and reduction by hydrogen transforms it into the metal fuel gain, in a process that can be repeated indefinitely. For sure, with efforts like these, we may expect much more sustainable, better, and cheaper steel and a more prestigious and socially engaged industry. This is innovation, and innovation in materials engineering is business. Remember: Protection of materials and equipment is good business!

Prof. Carlos Arroyave, Ph.D. Editor.

Materials Biz News

A tragedy for science and humanity

The integrity of scientific assets is a special matter of concern because usually, money for R&D is scarce. This is the reason why the collapse of the Arecibo Observatory Telescope, which happened on December the 1st 2020, is a calamity. It was one of the world's largest radio telescopes, an emblematic research center of Puerto Rico, operating almost 57 years ago. Astronomy and atmospheric discoveries made include the first exoplanets or planets of stars other than the sun, the detection of the first binary pulsar according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the tracking of potentially habitable planets far from Earth, and the risk assessment concerning asteroid approaching the Earth. It was the speaker from which the first “Hello” message was sent into space. The structure included a single 305 m-wide reflector dish installed on a natural depression, nestled in the middle of a thick tropical forest, about 10 km from the north seashore of the Puerto Rico Island. In addition, there was a 900-tones Gregorian dome (an instrument's platform) hung 140 m above the dish. The platform was suspended by cables, one of them broke last August, the second one in November, and now a definite failure that allowed the smashing of the dome through the dish below, and before the decommissioning that had been planned by the National Science Foundation, agency in charge of the Observatory. The reasons for the cables damage are not known yet. Forensic analysis are been done. For sure, an issue concerning scientific asset integrity. Read More

The modern stone of the philosophers

The Latin legend on the “lapis philosophorum” about the search for a substance capable of turning any metal into gold, is again the great objective of current chemistry. But now the goal is not gold, is carbon dioxide conversion and use as a raw material for chemicals, fuels, polymers, and so on. As above-mentioned in the editorial, one of the big challenges in the steel industry and all the other productive sectors supported by fossil fuels is to convert or CO2 emission. Such efforts are known as CCUS – Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage. The reduction is a way under deep exploration for utilization, and the electrochemical pathway looks very attractive. One of its advantages is the option of use electricity from renewable sources (wind, solar). In one of the easier electrochemical routes, the cell includes a catalyst embedded in the cathode, where the reduction to CO happens. Meanwhile, water from the electrolyte is oxidized at the anode, generating O2. In general, the great problem today is the low efficiency, mainly due to energy losses during the processes. Then, the economic balance is not positive, yet. That means a lot of research is still needed, as a guarantee of a cleaner future. Listen More

Innovation for the Blue Economy

Production activity upon ocean resources will be growing exponentially in the coming decades. It is well known that one of the pioneering sectors in such purpose has been the O&G industry. One of the main regions currently under exploitation is the polygon so-called “Pre-salt”. The salt layer, 2000 m thick in some areas, located between 1900 and 2400 m under the sea level, in Southeast offshore of Brazil, covers an oil reservoir rock placed in ultra-deep waters and discovered in the 1980s. Technological developments answering challenges from the Pre-salt exploitation come from companies around the world, and research centers like the Institute for Graduate Studies and Research in Engineering (COPPE) in the Center of Technology of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. As part of COPPE, the Non-Destructive Testing, Corrosion and Welding Laboratory, led by Prof. Oscar Rosa Mattos, develops research for Pre-salt exploration and exploitation. Results of the efforts, most of them together with the Brazilian Petroleum Company –PETROBRAS, include equipment as an autonomous underwater riser inspection tool and a robot for offshore pipeline inspection. Recently, the team led by Claudio Camerini, CEO of ‘Integral Monitoramento e Inspeção’ and partner of the project, announced the development of two new tools, one for mapping drilling riser system by ultrasound, and another for the inspection by electromagnetic principles of corrosion risks under patches of pipelines that have been repaired. Learn More


Tenure-track faculty position in Canada Ontario, Canada.

McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering (Hamilton, Ontario) invites applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant or Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Applicants must have a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering or a related discipline. Specialization in energy systems, thermal-fluids, flow-induced vibrations, or smart systems is a bonus. The successful applicant will teach both undergraduate and graduate-level courses. They will also be expected to establish a strong externally funded research program, supervise graduate students, and foster existing or new collaborations with other departments and faculties.

Quality Technology Manager Barcelona, Spain.

AkzoNobel, Barcelona, Spain, is offering a position for a person responsible for technology solutions supporting quality improvements for paint & coatings operations, including design and operating principles, equipment requirements, and outline business cases. Requirements include at least 10 years of experience in manufacturing, quality, R&D, technology (project management, maintenance/engineering & operations management). A technical university degree in Chemical, Process or Mechanical Engineering or related technical degrees. And work experience as a technical manager and/or operations (quality, production, engineering, R&D) management.

Consultant for the new industry South East, UK.

Penspen, a global oil and gas consultancy enterprise focused on midstream and upstream facilities, is seeking a consultant on decarbonization and hydrogen. Basic requirements are a graduate / postgraduate degree in a subject such as engineering, economics, physics, or maths. Minimum 15 years of experience in oil/gas-related projects. Significant practical experience and the delivery of technical or economic studies related to the UK and European decarbonization policy, design, performance, and overall economics of hydrogen production, storage, transportation, use, carbon capture, utilization transportation, and storage. And understanding of decarbonization pathways from a whole system perspective. The role would involve thought leadership, business development, and building a client relationship.

Networking & Knowledge Exchange

Insight on the current research in materials engineering and science Virtual

Said purpose depicted in the acronym IConMEAS 2020 is expected in the 3rd International Conference on Materials Engineering & Science to be held between December 28th and 30th 2020. This event is organized by AlNahrain University (Iraq), MIE University (Japan), and Universiti Malaysia Perlis and Universiti Sains Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur as the host institutions. The organizers are launching the meeting as the premier forum for the presentation of new advances and research results in the fields of Materials Engineering and Science, and putting together leading researchers, engineers, and scientists, from academy and industry, in the domain of interest from around the world, to exchange ideas and present results of ongoing research. Colleagues from Iraq, Syria, Oman, and Malaysia will be in charge of the central speeches and a scheduled workshop about “how to write a great argument”. All accepted papers will be published in Materials Today: Proceedings – Journal, and selected ones will be published in Journal of Renewable Materials.

Scientific writing matters Virtual

The Young EFC, a branch of the European Federation of Corrosion – EFC, is inviting to an interactive webinar on “How to write a paper”, organized in partnership with Elsevier. This talk will be offered by Prof. Dr. Arjan Mol, Editor-in-Chief of Corrosion Science. Content of the event includes a discussion about how to construct and write a research paper for a high impact journal, tips on how to choose the best journal, and what the editors are looking for. Registration will be open until December 20th 2020. The webinar will be held on January 20th 2021, from 15:00 to 16:30 (CEST).

Talking about non-fossil energy Virtual

TWI is organizing a free webinar on “Geo-Energy Operations: Opportunities and Challenges”. General-purpose of the event is to share the expertise gained on subjects like materials, materials joining, structural integrity, static and dynamic testing, non-destructive testing, and non-destructive evaluation, through several geothermal projects. Specific topics to be considered are geo-energy operations (present/future, Covid-19 impact, etc.), environmental risks and prevention, solutions, and mitigation. This webinar is scheduled for December 16th 2020, from 9:00 to 12:30 (GMT + 0).

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash