Trains.com

Scrap iron vs Virgin iron ore

5915 views
54 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    June 2021
  • 142 posts
Scrap iron vs Virgin iron ore
Posted by ronrunner on Saturday, July 24, 2021 7:06 PM

NUCOR mini mills are based on extensive use of scrap metal in electric arc furnaces. Cleveland Ciffs just bought a huge stake in AK Steel and plans on using its Minnesota Irom money to create a all American vertical intrigrated operation. I was always assumed that Virgin iron ore was better aka Taconic pellets. But perhaps scrap metal takes less energy to process.I still saw long trains of ore in Duluth-Superior when I was there last year so some mills still use it and I hear that China is buying out our metallurgical coal & scrap metal

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 21,156 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, July 24, 2021 7:16 PM

I believe there is more demand for steel than just processing scrap can provide.

  • Member since
    September 2011
  • 5,382 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, July 24, 2021 9:04 PM

I understand that there are some grades of steel that require blast furnace produced iron.  Taconite pellets from a single source can be fairly uniform and of known composition.  Scrap may contain many alloys.

  • Member since
    December 2001
  • From: Northern New York
  • 22,363 posts
Posted by tree68 on Sunday, July 25, 2021 7:04 AM

It likely depends on what the metalurgist wants.  I don't pretend to be a metalurgist, but I believe that even using recycled steel allows for making some adjustments in the final product.

LarryWhistling
Resident Microferroequinologist (at least at my house) 
Everyone goes home; Safety begins with you
My Opinion. Standard Disclaimers Apply. No Expiration Date
Come ride the rails with me!
There's one thing about humility - the moment you think you've got it, you've lost it...

  • Member since
    March 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 12,502 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Sunday, July 25, 2021 10:07 AM

Many years ago, I mentioned Nucor Steel to the father of the woman I was dating at the time.  He was a structural engineer and only common courtesy kept him from getting profane about the quality of their product.

Some integrated steel producers (primarily Republic Steel) had electric furnaces at their mills which produced steel from carefully selected scrap.  It's not a new procedure.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    April 2007
  • 3,835 posts
Posted by Convicted One on Sunday, July 25, 2021 12:46 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH
only common courtesy kept him from getting profane about the quality of their product.

I was always of pretty much the same opinion, believing that the recycled steel was good mostly for lawn furniture and the sort.  But I soon gathered critics who claimed that considerable  effort was put into classifying and sorting the scrap, by content. 

I still don't think that I would relish having my motorcycle frame made from someone's old swingset. 

  • Member since
    May 2004
  • 6,874 posts
Posted by 7j43k on Sunday, July 25, 2021 2:46 PM

Iron ore can't be much used in an arc furnace because the furnace depends on the contents to electrically connect the electrodes.  Iron ore is not a conductor.  Scrap iron and steel are.  So is "fresh" iron and steel.

 

Arc furnaces were first used to make the highest quality steel.

The one that was around here was closed in 1991.  I know they produced rebar.  I don't know what else.

 

Ed

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 21,156 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Sunday, July 25, 2021 2:59 PM

Convicted One
 
CSSHEGEWISCH
only common courtesy kept him from getting profane about the quality of their product. 

I was always of pretty much the same opinion, believing that the recycled steel was good mostly for lawn furniture and the sort.  But I soon gathered critics who claimed that considerable  effort was put into classifying and sorting the scrap, by content. 

I still don't think that I would relish having my motorcycle frame made from someone's old swingset. 

Why not?  Some people would make a motorcycle frame from swing set tubing straight away - without recycling/remanufacturing it through a steel mill.  There are people that think exhuast tubing is suitable for safety cage construction in race cars.  I am not one of those people.

There are a multitude of grades of steel that each have specific uses.  Use the wrong grade for the wrong purpose and disaster is not far behind.

 

  • Member since
    April 2018
  • 25 posts
Posted by ClassA on Monday, July 26, 2021 10:56 AM

I recently was pricing steel for a power hammer build and the costs for new steel are outrageous. But what's really interesting is that scrap prices haven't risen along with the cost of new steel. So it does seem that there is a demand for new steel produced from ore and that scrap steel isn't able to make up the difference in demand. 

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,233 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Monday, July 26, 2021 1:23 PM

Convicted One

 

 
CSSHEGEWISCH
only common courtesy kept him from getting profane about the quality of their product.

 

I was always of pretty much the same opinion, believing that the recycled steel was good mostly for lawn furniture and the sort.  But I soon gathered critics who claimed that considerable  effort was put into classifying and sorting the scrap, by content. 

I still don't think that I would relish having my motorcycle frame made from someone's old swingset. 

 

We move about 15 thousand loads a year for various Nucor mills. Beams, channel steel, and of course coils. Its a very high quality product.. which explains why they're the largest steel producer in the US albeit steel made from recycled scrap. Nucor as a whole is a top notch company in terms of how they operate.. how they treat their employees and vendors. 

 

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • 3,835 posts
Posted by Convicted One on Monday, July 26, 2021 4:18 PM

Ulrich
Nucor as a whole is a top notch company in terms of how they operate.

I suspect that it is crucial for a responsible recycler to understand both his sources as well as his customer's needs.

 Many of us likely think of recycled metal as a product of those  free lance scrappers  who drive their pickups down our alleys a half hour ahead of the garbage trucks,  piling high everything from bicycle frames to bed posts.

When in reality many are sourced directly from machine shop mill tailings and such, where the composition is fairly reliable.

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • From: Palos Park, IL
  • 173 posts
Posted by bogie_engineer on Monday, July 26, 2021 6:33 PM

Both American Steel Foundries and Bradken (formerly Atchison Castings, Rockwell, and LFM) make all their steel castings for freight car trucks, couplers, draft gear end sills, and locomotive truck frames and all their other products by melting scrap. They are selective what they use and produce high quality alloys of whatever chemistry is required by the customer. A lot of the scrap is railroad wheels.

Dave

  • Member since
    September 2011
  • 5,382 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Monday, July 26, 2021 7:20 PM

Ten or 15 years ago I heard about iron nuggets as an alternative to taconite pellets.  They were also processed near the iron mines.  They could be used in mini-mills, and seemed to be set to remake the steel industry.  However, that doesn't seemed to have happened.  Now when I google "iron nuggets" I find there is a computer game involving iron nuggets, and it's hard to find links to actual industrial topics.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 17,647 posts
Posted by Overmod on Monday, July 26, 2021 7:57 PM

Add the word 'processing' to your 'iron nugget' search and all sorts of things appear.

https://www.energy.gov/eere/amo/itmk3-high-quality-iron-nuggets-using-rotary-hearth-furnace

  • Member since
    December 2001
  • From: NW Wisconsin
  • 3,852 posts
Posted by beaulieu on Monday, July 26, 2021 9:07 PM

The Mesabi Nuggets plants in Minnesota were shut down during the last Iron Ore price crash. Even though Iron Ore prices have rebounded I haven't heard that the plants have reopened.

  • Member since
    September 2010
  • 2,206 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 12:06 AM

I had the opportunity to watch an electric steel mill in Lemont IL. start a "melt" and it is impressive. Carbon rods that are below a "lid" fed by about 12 large (4" dia.) cables that start dancing like junp ropes as the lid is lowered into the crucibe and contact is made with the scrap metal. and the sound and vibration is fear inspiring. 

  • Member since
    July 2021
  • 3 posts
Posted by NYC-Ohio on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 7:50 AM

bogie_engineer

Both American Steel Foundries and Bradken (formerly Atchison Castings, Rockwell, and LFM) make all their steel castings for freight car trucks, couplers, draft gear end sills, and locomotive truck frames and all their other products by melting scrap. They are selective what they use and produce high quality alloys of whatever chemistry is required by the customer. A lot of the scrap is railroad wheels.

Dave

 

 

I spent 3 years working at a cast iron foundry, the primary customers were rail (including ASF).

99% of the raw material was scrap, but EVERY single melt was analyzed via spectrograph as to content and adjusted as needed.  I would suspect it is the same for every steel producer as well.

  • Member since
    May 2005
  • From: S.E. South Dakota
  • 13,072 posts
Posted by Murphy Siding on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 9:21 AM

NYC-Ohio
 
bogie_engineer

Both American Steel Foundries and Bradken (formerly Atchison Castings, Rockwell, and LFM) make all their steel castings for freight car trucks, couplers, draft gear end sills, and locomotive truck frames and all their other products by melting scrap. They are selective what they use and produce high quality alloys of whatever chemistry is required by the customer. A lot of the scrap is railroad wheels.

Dave

 

 

 

 

I spent 3 years working at a cast iron foundry, the primary customers were rail (including ASF).

99% of the raw material was scrap, but EVERY single melt was analyzed via spectrograph as to content and adjusted as needed.  I would suspect it is the same for every steel producer as well.

 

I'm glad you chimed in on this discussion. I'm a lumber guy so I don't have deep knowledge about steel. Steel production is pretty sophisticated. It seems to me, the steel manufacturers would have the technology to weed out what they don't want from the scrap steel. When they start with iron ore, don't they have weed out stuff they don't want?

Thanks to Chris / CopCarSS for my avatar.

  • Member since
    July 2021
  • 3 posts
Posted by NYC-Ohio on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 9:28 AM
No idea on whether mines are open, but the Great Lakes ships are hauling like crazy (also a Boatnerd).
  • Member since
    April 2018
  • 25 posts
Posted by ClassA on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 10:33 AM

Somebody with more experience can probably correct me, but from what I understand, even with recycled scrap, the process burns out most additives in the scrap metal. They have to then add back elements to get the alloys they desire from the melt. It is then poured and rolled to final stock. 

 

Which is why the disparity between scrap prices and new steel is interesting to me. It implies to me that the bottleneck is in the mills, not in feedstock. 

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • 3,835 posts
Posted by Convicted One on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 11:15 AM

ClassA
but from what I understand, even with recycled scrap, the process burns out most additives in the scrap metal

 

"burns out" is where my confusion comes in. That explanation might make sense as far as the body that got cubed into the Lincoln in James Bond's  "Goldfinger"....

What I find myself wondering most about are property determining alloys.  Some alloys are added to enhance threadability for example, while others to create hardness.  At the temperatures necessary to melt the work, it's not like you can just pick the right solvent, as you can in a chem lab, to wash out the undesirables.....at least I don't think you can.

  • Member since
    December 2004
  • 698 posts
Posted by tdmidget on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 11:59 AM

"Somebody with more experience can probably correct me"

That might be me. I spent 25 years in the scrap business. Contaminants do not "burn" out but most can be removed. Carbon, of course, is critical but nowadays can be added by coke injection or removed by blowing air or oxygen through the melt. Sulfur, Phosphorous, and Chromium can be removed by fluxing with limestone. The problem contaminants are copper and nickle. To reduce the level the mill must dilute it. The best practice is to buy from reliable sources such as large scrap procesors. These yards will be equipped to shred mixed items such as electrical appliances , switch gear and the like so that the metals are separated and recovered.The most common problem, electric motors, are worth enough that they can be separated and sold as an item. Nickle might come from aaaaarmor plate, not that common, and some tool steels. Again the sophisticated yard will separate these for sale as a more valuable item.

High scrap prices bring all kinds of wannabes into the business and their lack of experience and priciples lead to low quality. In addition since the mid 1980s when the length restrictions were removed on trucks some new product moved to trucks. previously 50 and 60 foot items moved almost exclusively by rail. Mills wanted scrap by rail as that assured a supply of eqiipment for their products. That coupled with the ridiculous PSR fad were the name of the game is drive customers away leads to these newbies and amateurs being able to deliver by truck and so lower quality scrap will get in. Melt shop people know what they are doing so I doubt that it is a big problem.

  • Member since
    September 2011
  • 5,382 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 9:26 PM

Murphy Siding
When they start with iron ore, don't they have weed out stuff they don't want?

The iron ore is milled to a powder finer than talcum, and then goes thru a flotation process that separates the metalics from the country rock.  The concentrate can be mixed with clay in a kiln to form taconite pellets.  Knowing the composition of the mines output, steel companies can choose which mine to buy from.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 21,156 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 9:51 PM

I guess American steel producers don't get much scrap from the Alang shipbreakers in India.  I would guess the scrap from shipbreakers would be of a rather high quality.  Maybe even higher quality if it war vessels being scrapped.

  • Member since
    May 2005
  • From: S.E. South Dakota
  • 13,072 posts
Posted by Murphy Siding on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 10:44 PM

MidlandMike

 

 
Murphy Siding
When they start with iron ore, don't they have weed out stuff they don't want?

 

The iron ore is milled to a powder finer than talcum, and then goes thru a flotation process that separates the metalics from the country rock.  The concentrate can be mixed with clay in a kiln to form taconite pellets.  Knowing the composition of the mines output, steel companies can choose which mine to buy from.

 

Is there every other metals in with the iron ore?

Thanks to Chris / CopCarSS for my avatar.

  • Member since
    April 2018
  • 25 posts
Posted by ClassA on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 10:05 AM

tdmidget

"Somebody with more experience can probably correct me"

That might be me. I spent 25 years in the scrap business. Contaminants do not "burn" out but most can be removed. Carbon, of course, is critical but nowadays can be added by coke injection or removed by blowing air or oxygen through the melt. Sulfur, Phosphorous, and Chromium can be removed by fluxing with limestone. The problem contaminants are copper and nickle. To reduce the level the mill must dilute it. The best practice is to buy from reliable sources such as large scrap procesors. These yards will be equipped to shred mixed items such as electrical appliances , switch gear and the like so that the metals are separated and recovered.The most common problem, electric motors, are worth enough that they can be separated and sold as an item. Nickle might come from aaaaarmor plate, not that common, and some tool steels. Again the sophisticated yard will separate these for sale as a more valuable item.

High scrap prices bring all kinds of wannabes into the business and their lack of experience and priciples lead to low quality. In addition since the mid 1980s when the length restrictions were removed on trucks some new product moved to trucks. previously 50 and 60 foot items moved almost exclusively by rail. Mills wanted scrap by rail as that assured a supply of eqiipment for their products. That coupled with the ridiculous PSR fad were the name of the game is drive customers away leads to these newbies and amateurs being able to deliver by truck and so lower quality scrap will get in. Melt shop people know what they are doing so I doubt that it is a big problem.

 

 

tdmidget - Thank you for your insightful reply. I was thinking of those processes when I said "burned out", but I also see how that is absolutely the wrong way to describe it. 

I was thinking of removing impurities like you described, but nickel and copper hadn't occurred to me. That really does emphasize how important good scrap dealers are. 

I recall once there was concern about radioactive scrap making it's way into steel. Is that still a concern? 

Also, with your experience, do you know why the large variance between scrap prices and new steel? The round solid I bought from a fellow blacksmith for $0.40/lb was quoted at $1.60/lb new, but the local scrap yards are only offering $0.08/lb for the same if I tried selling it. 

Paul F

  • Member since
    March 2008
  • 53 posts
Posted by OWTX on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 1:55 PM

Direct reduced iron (DRI) and pig iron can also be used as feedstock in EAF steel. Conversely BF-BOF mills can have scrap in the mix.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 17,647 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 5:41 PM

ClassA
I recall once there was concern about radioactive scrap making it's way into steel. Is that still a concern?

Be careful here.  The issue I remember with radioactive contamination was for very specific circumstances: use of steel for construction of diagnostic and test equipment that could be thrown off by the relatively small residual atmospheric concentration of nuclides in all steel processed since the era of above-ground weapons testing -- leading at the time of realization to finding pre-WWII sources of scrap, notably sunken warships in the Pacific, that were free of the problem.

I do not know if modern cost-effective processes can remove those elements from scrap; I suspect that careful sourcing and treatment of virgin ores could provide 'new' alloy steels without this low level of nuclear contamination, but perhaps not at economical scale at all points in the required processing.

If there is, or has been, a concern with actual 'health' levels of radioactive contamination of scrap (e.g. with americium from older smoke detectors and the like) I'd like to know more details.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 21,156 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 5:51 PM

Some illumination on radioactivity after entry into the atomic age.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pSqk-XV2QM

 

  • Member since
    September 2011
  • 5,382 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 9:25 PM

ClassA
I recall once there was concern about radioactive scrap making it's way into steel. Is that still a concern? 

Deep wells, such as oil&gas or brine, may have radioactive scale from trace minerals that accumulate on the pipe.  Pipe pulled from the well must be tested for NORM

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy