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How is steel made?

Steel is produced via two main routes: the blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) route and electric arc furnace (EAF) route. Variations and combinations of production routes also exist.

The key difference between the routes is the type of raw materials they consume. For the BF-BOF route these are predominantly iron ore, coal, and recycled steel, while the EAF route produces steel using mainly recycled steel and electricity. Depending on the plant configuration and availability of recycled steel, other sources of metallic iron such as direct-reduced iron (DRI) or hot metal can also be used in the EAF route. 

A total of 70.7% of steel is produced using the BF-BOF route. First, iron ores are reduced to iron, also called hot metal or pig iron. Then the iron is converted to steel in the BOF. After casting and rolling, the steel is delivered as coil, plate, sections or bars.

Steel made in an EAF uses electricity to melt recycled steel. Additives, such as alloys, are used to adjust to the desired chemical composition. Electrical energy can be supplemented with oxygen injected into the EAF. Downstream process stages, such as casting, reheating and rolling, are similar to those found in the BF-BOF route. About 28.9% of steel is produced via the EAF route.

Another steelmaking technology, the open hearth furnace (OHF), makes up about 0.4% of global steel production. The OHF process is very energy intensive and is in decline owing to its environmental and economic disadvantages.

Most steel products remain in use for decades before they can be recycled. Therefore, there is not enough recycled steel to meet growing demand using the EAF steelmaking method alone. Demand is met through a combined use of the BF-BOF and EAF production methods.

All of these production methods can use recycled steel scrap as an input. Most new steel contains recycled steel.

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