A Dutch company has developed a way to divert contaminated steel scrap from landfill.
Purified Metal Company (PMC) employs a patented smelting process which sees asbestos-laced steel heated to roughly 1500°C in two electric induction furnaces after having been washed, cut and pressed in a prior process.
The high temperature breaks down the hazardous fibres into sand, glass and magnesium oxide, the individual constituents forming a type of slag that floats on the smelt itself.
The purifying process generates 2% slag, 2% flue gas as well as 96% clean scrap.
Said molten, purified steel is then transferred into a casting machine, where it is converted into solid steel blocks (officially known as Purified Metal Blocks or PMB’s) weighing around 7-8 kg. These are later sold to various electric arc furnace mills and foundries in Europe.
PMC is the first company in the world to figure out how to treat asbestos contaminated steel scrap.
The proprietary technology in question was developed by CEO Jan Henke Wijma as well as by Nathalie van de Poel and Bert Bult. The three partners and shareholders met initially while working together at Dutch steel producer Nedstaal.
Wijma stressed the sustainability of PMC’s process.
“We prevent material going to the landfill so that means less cost for society and a clean raw material for steelmakers”, he said.
In 2019, global crude steel production totalled 1,533 billion tonnes while steel scrap production amounted to 491 million tonnes. Worldwide, 630 million tonnes of steel scrap are recycled, which helps slash 950 million tonnes worth of carbon emissions on an annual basis. (Steel, considered the greatest industrial GHG emitter, can lessen its individual ecological footprint by 30% via secondary steel production in this form.)
As demand for steel continues to rise, secondary materials such as scrap metal grow ever more important. With sustainability gradually becoming a key concern for consumers, the demand for recycled scrap is set to rise in the next two decades. By 2040, an additional 200 million tonnes of steel scrap will be requested per year, according to metal research consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
PMC currently recycles contaminated material from the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, with the UK and the US having expressed their interest in the process. The company is set to build a recycling plant around Leipzig, plans for five more in the wings.
According to Wood Mackenzie, steel scrap collection is increasing due to sustainability reasons though actual use has so far proven limited due to difficulties in the assurance of scrap quality, something which may be set to change on account of PMC’s efforts.
Steel scrap laced with asbestos, Chrome-6 and other chemicals and heavy metals such as mercury or lead are usually classified as hazardous and sent to landfill within the European context.