Making stainless steel – mining, producing ferrochrome and melting metal in huge furnaces – is an energy intensive process. In fact, some imagine the stainless steel industry as a sort of energy glutton, guzzling huge amounts of power to create its sleek and strong end products. Outokumpu, however, has been slimming down its energy consumption for years. For instance, during 2010–2015, the improvements in energy-efficiency achieved by the company totaled 8%. And the power diet continues.
In November 2016, Outokumpu’s main stainless steel production site in Finland, Kemi-Tornio, signed a voluntary Energy Efficiency Agreement, committing to reducing its energy use by 100 000 MWh by 2025. The agreement, which covers Finnish industrial, energy and private service sectors, is a critical tool in meeting Finland’s energy efficiency obligations set by the EU. The goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and combat climate change through companies’ voluntary efforts.
Slimming down to optimal energy use
The energy-savings agreed to in Kemi-Tornio correspond to about 2% of the site’s total energy consumption. “Though it may not sound like a highly ambitious goal, the amount of energy is actually quite massive,” says Anne Kärki, Technical Services Manager at Outokumpu Tornio.
In fact, 100 000 MWh equals the yearly electricity consumption of over 9 200 average homes in the US. It’s also a testament to years of gains made in energy efficiency that the room for improvement is getting smaller. Like a person trying to slim down, the last few extra pounds take more work to shed. “The Kemi-Tornio site has been working towards optimal energy efficiency for years, so gains left to achieve now have decreased and are more laborious to carry out,” Kärki says. Yet, Kemi-Tornio has made a detailed plan for how to drop the 100 000 MWh in the next nine years.
Energy-efficiency is a business must
The most energy-intensive process phases in Kemi-Tornio are the production of ferrochrome – the ingredient that makes stainless stainless – and the melting of recycled steel, the main ingredient of Outokumpu stainless. The most fuel-intensive procedures include heating steel slabs and coils in hot- and cold-rolling mills. “In such an energy-intensive industry, being energy efficient is a business essential, which is why Outokumpu has invested in cutting down energy use throughout its history,” Kärki says.
Not only does energy efficiency bring down costs, but it also allows Outokumpu to make stainless more ecologically, helping customers create environmentally sustainable end products. For years, Outokumpu has been investing in more efficient technology and creating integrated processes to maximize the use of melted ferrochrome, carbon monoxide gases and hot charging. To reach the reduction of 100 000 MWh by 2025, the Kemi-Tornio site is seeking new technical and process improvements, and investing, for instance, in better waste heat utilization. “Participation in this agreement shows Outokumpu’s commitment to systematic monitoring and continuous improvement in energy efficiency. It’s something our climate-conscious clients will also appreciate,” Kärki says.