Coke Battery Cheaper, Cleaner

Article excerpt

U.S. Steel Corp.'s new C Battery at its huge Clairton coke plant is a major piece of a $500 million improvement project that enhances the company's new ability to make all the coke it needs.

And self-sufficiency is a plus, given the up-and-down prices of purchased coke, industry experts say.

"They have certainly insulated themselves against the worst gyrations" of the coke market, said James Moss, partner in First River Consulting, a North Shore strategy firm focused on steel and other industries.

U.S. Steel, Clairton and government officials celebrated the startup of the technologically and environmentally advanced battery of ovens on Thursday at the nation's largest coke-making plant.

CEO John P. Surma said construction of the C Battery and the first of three low-emission quench towers to cool coke represents the largest investment in the 112-year history of the Clairton plant.

The battery replaces three higher-emissions units, numbered 7 to 9, that were more than 50 years old. Work continues to improve the environmental performance of Batteries 1 to 3 at the plant, and two more quench towers are being built.

The upgrades at Clairton, plus a synthetic coke-making project at the company's Gary Works in Indiana, help ensure U.S. Steel's future, given tougher environmental restrictions that are shutting down coke ovens elsewhere, steel analyst Charles Bradford said.

"You have to have coke," he said.

Market prices for the raw material have fallen recently because the Chinese dropped a tax on coke exports and coking coal has become cheaper, Bradford said.

Coke is combined with iron ore, limestone and other minerals in a blast furnace to make iron, which is then converted to steel in a giant oxygen-fed furnace.

Allegheny County air quality officials calculate that the region is on track for the first time to meet daily soot limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, with improvements at Clairton playing a big role. EPA set the standards in 1997 and have tightened them since then.

"It's going to be the cleanest coke battery on the planet," United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard said.

C Battery uses a Uhde Corp. of America gas pressure control system that works much like a vacuum cleaner to contain emissions, and its design has fewer ovens, and thus fewer openings for emissions. Uhde, owned by German steel maker ThyssenKrupp, is based in Bridgeville.

The upgrades at Clairton won't change the plant's coke-making capacity of more than 4. …