Steel behemoth Tata Steel’s electric arc furnace-based recycling plants could come up in an auto hub in southern India. While the first of the steel recycling plants is coming up in Ludhiana, with a capacity of 0.75 million tonnes per annum (mtpa), Tata Steel plans to set up similar EAFs in other parts of the country as part of its plan to hit 36 mtpa manufacturing capacity in its domestic operations.

“If this model is successful, and in the next two years the Ludhiana plant will be operational, then we want to actually replicate this everywhere. So, the 36 to 40 million tonnes capacity (domestic) target can be reached by replicating this electric arc furnace route,” says TV Narendran, CEO & MD, Tata Steel Ltd.

Sustainability drive

As Narendran explains in an interview with businessline, the company’s plans for the north, west, and south of the country are to build capacity through the recycling route as the CO2 footprint will be much smaller while in the eastern region, it will continue to produce steel using iron ore and coal. “So, the 36-40 million tonnes capacity expansion we have all these options - either we expand further in our Kalinganagar or Neelachal plants or add more of these arc furnaces,” he says.  

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The move to set up electric arc furnaces will play a big part in Tata Steel’s sustainability drive. “We asked how can we embed more circularity in our value chain because we are typically a linear value chain and our goal was steel scrap processing as this is very unorganised in India,” says Narendran.

The commissioning of a half-a-million-tonne steel recycling plant at Rohtak was delayed due to Covid. For a new EAF plant, Tata Steel looked at Haryana and Punjab but picked the latter state as it gave a better deal. The location, Ludhiana, was chosen close to an industrial area and auto hub where it can source steel scrap easily while the Rohtak plant will also feed it cleaned steel scrap for the EAF to produce long steel products for the market under its flagship Tata Tiscon brand.

“When you make steel by melting scrap, there is no coal. Even if the power is thermal, the carbon that you emit when you make steel through recycling is point 5 to .6 tonnes of carbon per tonne of steel compared to 2.12 tonnes of carbon per tonne of steel in a coal-based plant. Our Jamshedpur plant is the best in India at 2.1 while our Dutch plant is one of the best in the world at 1.8. So an EAF is at 30 per cent of that footprint; in Ludhiana, a lot of the energy source will be green. So, it’s coming down to less than point three,” elaborates Narendran.

Greening steel

Ask Narendran if an EAF can use solar or renewable energy to add to its ‘green’ status, he says the problem with renewables is the supply is not steady. “Unless you have some pump storage. You can substitute some of the power but you cannot have 100 per cent unless you have alternate technologies. There’s thinking around SMRs or small modular reactors, which is 300 to 500 megawatts that can be good for a steel plant as it’s green power. So, this is part of the challenge of greening steel; Sweden is into green steel making but there the power source is hydro (consistent supply). But if it is solar and wind, then you don’t have those kinds of options,” he explains.

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The nuclear option is not one for India now, as he says, eventually all this will be part of the solution. “A lot of work is going on and the Indian government is also looking at how can the private sector be more involved in these nuclear SMRs like the ones in the US. These are things which are being explored,” says Narendran.