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Materials Processing Institute leads steel and ceramics consortium to cut furnace carbon emissions

Wienerberger Exhaust Duct at its Warnham Works near Horsham, West Sussex - British Steel Teesside Beam Mill Furnace

A consortium of companies from the United Kingdom’s steel and ceramics sectors, led by the Materials Processing Institute, has investigated ways of improving waste heat recovery from furnaces leading to several opportunities to cut carbon emissions.

The Institute worked with British Steel, Wienerberger UK, Heatcatcher Ltd and Low Carbon Europe Ltd as part of a project that is contributing to the National Energy and Climate Plan which includes Clean Growth Strategy requirements to improve business energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2030.

With both the steel and ceramics industries using gas-fired furnaces in continuous operation at temperatures in excess of 1000°C, the project sought to highlight best practice and investigate methods of waste heat recovery to improve energy efficiency and environmental practices.

It compared a British Steel reheating furnace with brick kilns operated by Wienerberger UK, examining combustion efficiency and heat flows.


The project identified ways to reduce the amount of gas used in the process, including introducing clean-burning hydrogen to the fuel mix by making changes to the furnace burner.
It also identified opportunities to

  • Reuse heat from cooling systems to pre-heat the combustion air in brick kilns
  • Generate electricity from excess heat in the furnace cooling system
  • Use of remnant heat in the steel furnace exhaust to generate electricity using organic rankine cycle turbine
  • Improve combustion efficiency through modern burner technologies
    Both the steel and ceramic sectors have already made strides in reusing exhaust heat to pre-heat product. In addition, the brick kilns use further exhaust heat to dry product while the steel furnace recuperates exhaust heat.

The results are being shared across the foundation industries to encourage take up of improved technologies and waste heat recovery. This includes more than 40 other brick kilns and 20 steel reheat furnaces in the UK.

The project was partly funded by Innovate UK through the Fast Start Competition, a research and development initiative run by the Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge, providing up to £5 million for cross-sector, collaborative, feasibility studies and industrial research and development projects focused on common resource and energy efficiency opportunities.

Chris McDonald, Chief Executive of the Teesside-based Materials Processing Institute, said: “This project is a successful example of how the steel and ceramic sectors have worked together, supported by Innovate UK, to share expertise and develop practical solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

“The outcome of this particular project is encouraging, having identified ways to refine an already highly efficient process by improving heat recovery and combustion technologies.

“We are confident the improvements identified are applicable to all similar continuous reheating furnaces and brick kilns and have the potential to deliver widespread benefits to the steel and ceramic sectors.”

Darren Bryant, Chief Executive of waste heat recovery specialist Heatcatcher Ltd, said: “The consortium provided a unique opportunity to compare the combustion profiles of the ceramic and steel sectors and recommend best practice solutions to increase the recovery of waste heat. Having worked in isolation across many of the foundation industry sectors, our involvement in the exchange of knowledge and ideas across the sectors provided an innovative shared approach to identifying carbon emissions under the successful leadership of the Materials Processing Institute. An effective project approach that we recommend for adoption across other foundation industry sectors.”

Dr. Gari Harris; Head of R&D at British Steel added: “With the support of Innovate UK, this consortium has developed a powerful team that not only delivered a successful collaboration for this project but can be called on again for subsequent decarbonisation and energy-saving projects. The energy savings identified in this project have generated great excitement within British Steel, as we have around 20 similar furnaces across our parent company with the potential for similar savings in each.”

Greg Crownshaw, Thermal Process Engineer at Wienerberger UK added, “Working with the consortium has been fascinating, allowing us to compare two high temperature processes and energy intensive industries. Through this, we have been able to identify improvements and opportunities to share best practices in steel reheat furnaces and brick tunnel kilns. This project is a great example of cross industry collaboration to work on reducing carbon emissions going forward and is aligned with Wienerberger’s sustainability strategy ‘Let’s Build Beyond’, which encourages partnerships to reduce carbon emissions from our manufacturing processes”.

Darren Jones, Managing Director of LCE, commented: “Being a part of this consortium allowed us to collaborate with on-site experts in the two fields to not only identify savings, but also identify where the processes differed, and how technologies can improve these areas. It also highlighted solutions that each industry has already undertaken as a standard, that through projects such as this, can be shared with other industries that have not yet identified that solution. We are excited that the consortium’s method could be rolled out across similar processes and indeed, other industries, to ensure best practice is shared effectively.”

Innovate UK, which is part of UK Research and Innovation, drives productivity and economic growth by enabling businesses to convert ideas into commercially successful products and services.

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