Research & Development

A Focus on Research & Development

An innovative approach is one of the key elements in driving and delivering the Tata Steel Group (TSG) vision that was formulated early in 2008. Innovation at Tata Steel means continuously developing cutting-edge solutions in technology, processes and products. Achieving this calls for substantial efforts in research and development, for which, to stay ahead of competitors, the Group maintains its own research centres.

Currently, the TSG operates four research centres: Tata Steel Limited’s (TSL) laboratories in Jamshedpur and the Tata Steel Europe’s (TSE) technology centres in IJmuiden, Netherlands and Rotherham and Teesside, United Kingdom. A total of over 1000 people are involved in R&D within the TSG. The Group’s research programme is split between programmes funded by the separate business units, which make up the major part of the work done in the European research centres and work on a number of identified thrust areas that receive corporate funding. The thrust areas also incorporate the projects that were previously a part of Corus’ strategic programme.

Economic Mineral Beneficiation

The research in this area is aimed at identifying ways to maximise use of raw materials from captive sources and is focussed on three subjects:

8% Ash coal maintaining yield

Here the objective is to develop a cost-effective beneficiation route for producing clean coal with 8% ash, maintaining current yield from the captive collieries. A dense medium cyclone that can use coarse coal (2 mm and over) to produce 12% ash clean coal has been designed and tested on a laboratory scale in preparation of a plant test. A similar cyclone designed for beneficiating fines from 0.25 to 2 mm to produce 10% ash clean coal will be tested directly on the plant.

Complete beneficiation of iron ore

Technologies are being developed and up-scaled to beneficiate high-alumina fractions and slimes with the aim to reduce alumina content to less than 1.5%. Efforts are also being made to commercially utilise the rejects.

Technology for cost-effective use of newly acquired raw material sources

A direct reduction method was developed for zinc bearing iron ore that ensures that zinc is retained in the DRI to avoid problems associated with vapourisation of zinc. The DRI thus produced can be processed in electric arc furnaces, a well established route for steel production from scrap with high zinc content. A feasibility study was successfully carried out.

To Stretch the Raw Materials Envelope

This programme was taken up to improve the process of lowering the phosphorus content in the converter during oxygen steel making. Themes addressed are design of a new supersonic lance, improvement in bottom stirring and assessment of the BOF slag system.

  • Trials have been carried out at the LD2 steel plant in Jamshedpur with a new 6+1 hole top lance designed by R&D.
  • Implementation of a new way of blowing argon from the vessel bottom called ‘Differential Flow’ at the LD2 plant in Jamshedpur has improved the phosphorus partition and reduced the argon consumption.
Heavy End of the Future

The work in this area refers to the three main trends that have influenced the steel industry in recent years: the drive to increase output to follow demand, the massive increase of the cost of raw materials and energy and the growing concern over climate change.

For the medium-term, the objective is to develop technology and operational practices to achieve cost-effective productivity rises with existing installations, maximise recycling, and reduce the environmental and CO2 footprint. The focus in this area is on the use of cheaper raw materials without compromising blast furnace performance and on optimising the burden distribution and pulverised coal injection rate.
For the long-term, the focus is on the large scale multi-partner project ULCOS (Ultra Low CO2 Steel making). This is aimed at reducing CO2 emissions per tonne of steel produced by at least 50% by 2050. Out of four possible approaches that have been identified for further development, two are of interest to the Group, i.e. the blast furnace that uses pure oxygen and top gas recycling, and the process now known as ISARNA.

Pilot trials with the former process carried out in 2008 at the experimental blast furnace of LKAB in Lulea, Sweden, have shown that with top gas recycling, the carbon input per tonne of steel can be reduced by 24% and that with the storage of CO2 gas removed from the top, the CO2 emission to the atmosphere can be halved. For the ISARNA process, the core of which is the melting and pre-reduction of ore fines in a cyclone, the engineering of a pilot plant was completed. A decision is expected at the end of the year regarding the location of the pilot plant.

New Generation High Strength Steels

This area comprises of projects to develop new metallurgical options to enable the Group to meet future demands for high strength steels.

Among the multiple approaches, one related work aimed at meeting already known needs, is the development of high strength and ductility (HSD) steels. Since 2005, Corus and Salzgitter have been working together on identifying opportunities for the application of HSD steels in selected market sectors.

Advanced Coatings Developments

Work on coatings is aimed at responding to the market drive to reduce coatings costs and maintain the Group’s position in the market for coated products. Within this, four work streams have been defined i.e. physical vapour deposition, development of zinc free coated products for current and future applications, high speed galvanising and high speed organic coating lines.

The physical vapour deposition (PVD) project is a joint development with POSCO in Korea. It is based on a PVD process developed by Tata Steel Europe that uses electromagnetic levitation of the metal(s) to be deposited.

Producing Ferro Chrome with Less Energy

The Group’s R&D centre at Jamshedpur has developed a novel process technology than can be applied either for the direct production of stainless steel or for producing ferro chrome in submerged arc furnaces (SAF) with reduced specific power and coke consumption. In 2008, scale-up trials were carried out to establish the technical and economical feasibility of the process. The research team also worked closely with the Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT), Bhubaneswar on a fluidised bed reactor process.

Two variants of this process are being developed for the production of pre-reduced chrome for use in production of ferro chrome in the existing SAF process and chrome nuggets that are used as alloying addition in stainless and alloy steel making. The novel process uses non-coking coal as a reducing agent and energy source. Thus there is reduced need for low ash, low phosphorus (imported) coke.

Hydrogen Harvesting

The slag granulation or quenching processes commonly used for slag cooling are not environmentally friendly and the heat contained in the molten slag is wasted.

Tata Steel has developed a novel process to generate hydrogen-rich gas by utilising the heat of molten slag. This process was demonstrated on a pilot project basis using a set up with 10 tonnes slag capacity, designed and developed in-house with the help of Tata Growth Shop, producing gas that contains over 70% hydrogen. International and Indian patent applications have been filed and work is now in progress to optimise the process for commercialisation at the Ferro Alloys plant.

This novel process has the potential to generate low cost hydrogen which can save energy and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in the steel plant.

Viable Photovoltaic Coating Systems

The work in this area is aimed at developing state-of-the-art thin film photovoltaic systems that are suitable for integration into the Tata Steel Group products. Part of the work focusses on the further development of technology developed by DyeSol, a company specialising in photovoltaics, and is done in collaboration with that company. A second work stream concentrates on the further development of steel as a substrate for PV systems. In the course of the financial year, a dedicated facility for the development of PV systems based on steel substrates, including a pilot line, was set up on the site of Corus Colors in Shotton. The first coating trials on the pilot line were highly promising.

Energy Efficient Fluids

The research in this area focusses on the development of efficient coolants and lubricants for rolling.

After laboratory tests had confirmed that suspending nanoparticles in an aqueous medium result in a higher heat transfer rate, subsequent tests have shown that the overall heat transfer was between 1.8 (at high temperatures) and 2.5 times (at low temperatures) that of water. For industrial scale use however, methods for large scale production and safe handling of these fluids were needed.

As a first step to solve these problems, an effervescent tablet was developed that would dissolve in water in five seconds. A patent application for this has been filed. As a second step, a novel concept of a high speed shear mixer for bulk nanofluid generation was demonstrated in October 2008 for 20,000 litres for use in wire box cooling in the wire rod mill of Indian Steel and Wire Products Limited, Jamshedpur. The higher cooling rate compared to normal water cooling opens up a range of applications in process control and product design.

Other prospective application areas for nano-coolants that have been investigated include increased cooling rates at the hot strip mill to enable low cost manufacturing of Dual Phase (DP) steels, stove cooling in blast furnaces, and heat recovery from waste gases and exhaust pipes.

Examples of business unit implementation and customer support

Early in 2008, TSE launched its new product MagiZinc®. MagiZinc® is a steel strip with a zinc coating to which small amounts of aluminium and magnesium have been added. In accelerated corrosion tests, the corrosion resistance of MagiZinc® proved to be at least four times as high as the corrosion resistance of conventional galvanised steel for the same coating thickness. This offers the opportunity to reduce the metallic coating weight while still improving the properties of the material. First applications can be seen in the construction industry and include channels for ventilation systems and cable trays in large commercial and residential buildings. In July 2008, MagiZinc® was awarded the Tata Group Innovation Award in the category of “Promising Innovations”.

TSE has been working with the UK Ministry of Defence to develop a new high-strength armour plate at a lower cost. The basics of this new super bainite steel were originally developed by Cambridge University, QinetiQ and The Ministry of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. TSE subsequently developed the product to industrial scale using its laboratory, pilot and full scale production facilities.

For the automotive industry, in addition to its efforts to develop advanced steel grades, excellent customer support is a key target. TSE’s portable strain analysis system (PHAST) combines expertise in three-dimensional measurement technology with in-depth materials knowledge and has been used for some years with much success to support press shop operators in using new steel grades or help solve problems in pressing complex car parts.

In 2008, an upgraded version of this system was launched, which provides analysis results within a few hours, so allowing minor changes to tool geometry or press settings to be made and their effect analysed during one shift.

The current focus for the packaging market is on developments that lead to growth with existing products, particularly in the European market. For example, working closely with TSE, Italy’s leading maker of cans for the paint and edible oil markets Gruppo ASA has developed PlatinunÒ, a new family of containers for paint based on TSE’s ProtactÒ polymer-coated packaging steel. PlatinunÒ has attracted a great deal of interest among paint manufacturers.

Process Improvements

Building on the experience gained with Process Improvement Groups in Corus, the Tata Steel Group Process Improvement Teams have been set up with the aim to ensure that best practice in process technology is applied throughout the Group. This involves among other things, transferring technology that has been proven in one plant to similar other installations. An example of this is an investment at Port Talbot steelworks in energy management technology similar to systems that already exist at other plants, including TSL’s Jamshedpur plant.

The Group is continuously working on ways to reduce emissions. It is also working on the development of measuring techniques so that its operations comply with pollution reduction regulations. For example, the TSE RD&T has led a major European project to investigate the sources of fine and ultra fine particulate matter in the steel industry. The study has identified the major sources of such particulates as being emitted by a typical integrated steel plant, and also as effects of long range transport.

These results will help TSE to anticipate future legislation and to take appropriate measures to reduce any emissions from steel making to lower levels.

In India, experts from TSE RD&T’s environment department have assisted in assessing ways to maintain emissions from the Jamshedpur works at current levels when production capacity is increased to 9.7 mtpa from the current 6.8 mtpa.

Tata Steel Chair Professor

Supporting education and research in metallurgy at universities is one way to secure future resources for industrial research and development in metals. With this in mind, the Tata Steel Group has endowed a professorship in metallurgy at the University of Cambridge. The holder of the Chair, inaugurated on 24th November 2008, will be known as the Tata Steel Professor of Metallurgy and the first person to hold the chair is Dr. Harry Bhadeshia, a world renowned expert on the physical metallurgy of steels.

Intellectual Property (IP) Rights

Good IP management can help the translation of the results of creativity and innovation into profits and valuable business options. The successful introduction and implementation of IP road mapping at Tata Steel and the continuous review of IP matters in multi-disciplinary platforms at TSE have resulted in a global Tata Steel Group portfolio of IP Rights (IPR) that is both youthful and mature. The patent portfolio currently comprises of over 850 patent applications at various stages between filing and grant and over 850 valid patents granting national exclusive rights owned by the respective group companies.

The Tata Steel Group IPR portfolio also comprises of some 250 pending trademark applications and over 1500 registered trademarks for premium products such as Shaktee® for Tata galvanised corrugated steel, MagiZinc® for a newly developed corrosion resistant Al-Mg-Zn coated steel and Colorcoat® for a range of pre-finished steel products for the building envelope.

In the years ahead, the Tata Steel Group will expand its IP portfolio to create and preserve exclusivity for the Group and to support commercialisation of R&D efforts in collaborations, strategic alliances, licensing and transfer of IP rights.