In 2023, ŽP Research and Development Centre (ŽP VVC) is celebrating its 15th anniversary. During this period, the company has performed many R&D activities in the field of physical metallurgy, metal forming, modelling and simulation of casting and forming processes and ecological measures in the steel manufacturing industry. The company is deeply committed to cooperation with Slovak technical universities through its joint laboratories and has participated in national and European research projects.
The company was founded in 2008 with a vision to boost the research and development activities and in-house projects in Železiarne Podbrezová and the entire ŽP GROUP. The company focuses mainly on physical metallurgy of steel, steel tube production, tooling and materials engineering, modelling and simulation of technological processes and environmental aspects of steel production.
In particular, the today’s hot topics are the environmental issues of steel production and waste treatment, the durability and service life of key refractory components of electric arc furnace (EAF) and continuous casting machine (CCM), laboratory tests of seamless hot rolled tubes for hydrogen transport and digital support for steel and tube drawing plants.
Steel tubes for hydrogen transport
In this very up-to-date topic, the company successfully cooperated with the Italian company RINA Consulting – Centro Sviluppo Materiali. RINA carried out the hydrogen-assisted stress intensity factor (KIH) tests on tube samples made of X42 and X52 steel grades. The test results exceeded our expectations and proved that Železiarne Podbrezová can produce seamless steel tubes for hydrogen transport. However, the relevant technical standards for the category “Hydrogen pipelines and distribution” require special requirements for the testing, identification, and verification of manufactured tubes.
Waste treatment and environmental aspects of steel production
Since its inception in 2008, ŽP VVC is dedicated to the processing and further utilization of waste coming from the steel production route. The search for the alternative use of the “white slag”, i.e., slag from the ladle furnace, has resulted in a cooperation with the Luxembourg company Carmeuse. This company carried out a great number of analyses with the intention of using this material in a plastering compound for civil engineering applications. Although the aforementioned project was not implemented, it helped us to gain valuable knowledge about the slag weathering/maturing. Unique system of time-lapse photo imaging and thermocouple recording has been utilized for the job.
In addition to waste processing, the company recently devoted a considerable effort to ensure that Železiarne Podbrezová is safely established among the “green steel” producers. The corresponding activities basically cover two topics: the replacement of fossil-based carbon by renewable biomass-based carbon for the production of steel in EAF and the calculation of the carbon footprint of steel billets and steel tubes production according to corresponding methodologies, i.e., Carbon Footprint of a Product (CFP) and Scope 1/2/3 emissions.
In the first topic, the company has been fully committed in the long-term trials of implementing the biocomposite material PE60 as a slag foaming agent in EAF steelmaking in Železiarne Podbrezová. This material has been developed by Pipex Energy. The number in “PE60” represents the approximate % reduction in CO2 emissions compared to standard anthracite coal.
The company is also engaged in the process of replacing lump anthracite coal as a carbonizing agent for EAF steelmaking with a non-fossil, biochar alternative. Both biomass-based materials significantly reduce the CO2 emissions, further lowering the already low carbon footprint of steelmaking in Železiarne Podbrezová thanks to the EAF process itself as well as the favourable energy mix (mainly nuclear and water-based electricity).
In the field of refractory materials used in continuous casting, the company has made a great amount of work towards the productivity of CCM by investigating the durability and service life of submerged entry nozzles as well as designing and testing the monolithic wear lining of the tundish box. The synergic effect pushes the productivity limits of CCM even further.
For EAF steelmaking, the R&D team has introduced the modern technology for manufacturing of monolithic furnace roof (the “delta”) made of refractory concrete instead of bricks.
The bottom line
We have “grown” from a company with five employees to a company with 17 employees (12 with PhD). The research work always has a high degree of uncertainty, bringing many doubts and unknowns. At the same time, it requires a high degree of creativity, knowledge-based decisions and the ability to find new, “out-of-the-box” solutions. The language skills are necessary for effective communication with peers, to interact, follow and extract knowledge from data and scientific papers from all around the world. The company progress (or decline) will first and foremost depend on the capability of its team – employees, their engagement, and commitment towards their work. The company management will do its utmost to develop this capital and insure prosperity of Železiarne Podbrezová and its R&D center.
Article written by: Podbrezovan