Innovation and Sustainability: Stainless Steel Solutions for the Mining Industry

Innovation and Sustainability: Stainless Steel Solutions for the Mining Industry

Mining is one of the main economic activities in Brazil, especially in the State of Minas Gerais. The country is the second largest iron ore producer in the world (accounting for 19 percent of global production), and Minas Gerais holds around 61 percent of national output. This state also outstands as a global leader in niobium (75 percent of global production), and is also rich in gold, zinc, phosphate, graphite, bauxite, and limestone deposits, among others, according to the Brazilian Mining Institute (IBRAM).

Steel industry is intrinsically associated with mining operations. Iron ore is the input that enables producing pig iron, cast iron and steel. In order to obtain special characteristics, other metals and elements are added in. The mining and steel industries, since they generate inputs for essential sectors, have a strong impact on national GDP. They have had a good performance in Brazil, with rising production and sales volumes, while attracting investments and offering excellent growth perspectives in the next few years. At the same time, they face the challenge of mitigating their socio-environmental impacts and producing in a more sustainable way, within the scope of the ESG agenda.

One of their impacts is related to the mineral coal, an extractive product used by the steel industry all over the world and that generates metallurgical coke, a highly polluting fuel. In Brazil, the steel industry has followed a different path, with the country being a global leader in the production and consumption of charcoal and the only one to utilize renewable sources: according to the Brazilian Timber Industry Association (IBÁ), approximately 90 percent of the charcoal produced in the country come from reforestation areas.

Adhesion to the global commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - assumed by hundreds of countries in the Paris Agreement and at COP-26 -, and the war between Russia and Ukraine have both accelerated the transition into renewable energy sources - or, at least, discussions about that. 

 

If, on one side, mineral coal production might be affected, on the other side new opportunities are coming up to increase the consumption of niobium, which is employed, in addition to batteries, to increase the resistance of automotive steels, thus reducing the weight of vehicles and contributing to increase the autonomy of electric cars – a market that has become stronger due to the trend to replace fossil fuels.

The fact is that there is room for growth in the mining and steel industries in Brazil given the fundamental role they play in the economy. However, in order to live up to that, they will need to tread two paths, simultaneously: innovation and sustainability.

Aperam South America: innovative and sustainable steel production

Aperam South America is an integrated producer of special flat steels - stainless, electric, and carbon steels -, with an industrial plant in Brazil, in the State of Minas Gerais, and the capacity to produce 900 thousand tons of liquid steel per year. The company is a member of the Aperam Group, the second largest in Europe, comprising five other industrial plants in France and Belgium.

The Brazilian unit is an example of a company that has adopted “innovability” as its premise, by understanding that every innovation must be at the service of sustainability. The company is the only one in the world, in the special flat steels segment, to utilize 100 percent of reducing agents based on charcoal, sourced from renewable eucalyptus forests certified by FSC and grown by Aperam BioEnergia, a business unit also located in Minas Gerais.

"There is room for growth in the mining and steel industries in Brazil given the fundamental role they play in the economy"

In May 2022, Aperam South America announced it was the first company in the world in its segment to have achieved greenhouse gas emission and capturing neutrality. The company has reduced its emissions since it concluded a transition in its blast furnaces to charcoal, in 2011, while having developed new technologies and processes to optimize every stage of its green steel production. Having done that, it has reached a new level of sustainability, while producing high added-value solutions for many segments, such as the mining industry.

Stainless steel solutions for the mining industry

Mining companies not only provide inputs for steel production, but they can also use steel products to achieve important efficiency and sustainability gains. The best example of a product that generates high added-value for mining industries is ENDUR 300, a highly resistant stainless steel made by Aperam South America and employed in containers and wagons used to transport iron ores.

Steel products, especially those used to transport wet loads, suffer from corrosion. So the use of stainless steel has proven the best solution. ENDUR 300 offers the necessary resistance to corrosion and other attributes, such as theelimination of load wastage caused by punctures, and a reduction in the thickness of plates and container weight, thus providing fuel savings and easier cleaning and maintenance operations. Its durability is also a great differential: it has been estimated that the useful life of wagons made of stainless steel may reach from 40 to 50 years, if compared to seven years for those made of carbon steel.

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