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Fall 2016

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Deric Faylor keeps on eye on electric arc furnace #2  transforming 130 – 170 tons of scrap into liquid steel.
Deric Faylor keeps on eye on electric arc furnace #2 as it begins the process of transforming 130 – 170 tons of scrap into liquid steel.

A Heart of Steel

It is hard to imagine steel having a soft side, but when you look closely at Nucor Corp., you will find a steelmaker that cares. Nucor is a manufacturer that cares for its teammates and customers, as well as the products it makes. Nucor is also an environmental steward, working to minimize the impact its mills have on the planet and the communities where Nucor’s teammates live and work. Yes, Nucor has a soft side, and it is all heart.

Nucor has been in business for more than 110 years and has been making steel from recycled scrap metal for the last 50 years. The company has 24 steel mills and 200 total operating facilities, most of which are located in the United States. In South Carolina, Nucor has five locations. The steel Nucor produces makes thousands of useful items we see and use every day. In 2015, Nucor produced more than 19.9 million tons of steel, earning the title of America’s largest steel manufacturer.

Nucor Steel – Berkeley, a division of Nucor, is a steel mill located in Huger that makes hot- and cold-rolled sheet and hot-rolled beam. They are also a Santee Cooper industrial customer.

From a distance, the scrap may look like mulch but upon closer inspection, the piles are full of car jacks and other used items.

“We have a great relationship with Santee Cooper,” said Denny Boyd, electrical power engineer at Nucor Steel – Berkeley. “I believe it works because it is a partnership of two companies with similar core values.”

Those values start with a quality product.

Nucor Steel – Berkeley produces flat-rolled steel, which has hundreds of uses including parts for cars, water heaters, lawnmowers, appliances and more. The mill also produces steel beams that are used as support structures in bridges and buildings. Making millions of tons of much needed and useful products is a hot process. It’s a process that can also be very complicated.

Nucor teammates will tell you they have a “recipe” that is a part of each product produced. Along with scrap metal, Nucor Steel – Berkeley uses a mix of pure iron sources in the recipes that produce new steel. Those iron additives include pig iron, hot briquetted iron and direct reduced iron pellets, which Nucor makes at its plants in Louisiana and Trinidad.

Clockwise from left: Denny Boyd, electrical power engineer, looks out over the piles of scrap. These scrap pieces of metal have been brought in by ship, rail and truck, then piled together, and are waiting to be picked up, melted and molded into another purpose.

Once Nucor teammates determine the recipe for a specific product, the mixture is put into an electric arc furnace (EAF), which can melt 170 tons of scrap in less than 35 minutes. The melting is mainly done with electricity that makes an arc between an electrode and the scrap. That arc reaches about 20,000 °F, melting and heating the scrap to 3,000 °F. By comparison, the surface of the sun is approximately 10,000 °F.

In addition, one Nucor EAF can use 50 to 150 megawatts of power by itself, which is equal to switching on more than 1 million incandescent light bulbs at the same time. This process of making steel is the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly method of steelmaking, being 90 percent more environmentally friendly than traditional steel production in a blast furnace.
Next, the liquid steel is poured – or “tapped” – into a ladle, which leads to a ladle metallurgy furnace (LMF). Here, the steel is refined by adding alloys specific to the order from Nucor’s customer. From the LMF, the liquid steel travels to a caster, which shapes the steel into slabs, billets, blooms or beam blanks. These shapes are all near to the final product shape, which allows an extremely efficient use of energy through the casting and rolling operations.

The small round DRI, or direct reduced iron pellets, are made at Nucor plants in Louisiana and Trinidad.

From this point, the steel goes through a process in either the hot strip rolling mill or the hot beam rolling mill, to refine the shape. Finally, strip steel can be pickled, cold rolled, annealed or galvanized, depending on what the customer needs.

This is how Nucor makes the tough, high-quality, American-made steel that the company is known for. But Nucor is also known for its soft side: a heart that embraces all things sustainable.

Employees monitor the process from a control room as an electric arc furnace begins the process of transforming 130-170 tons of scrap into liquid steel.

The environment is a major focus for this corporation, as demonstrated by its achievement of ISO 14001 certification for its Environmental Management System (EMS). Nucor’s EMS involves each and every teammate, and includes a policy, objectives and targets all aimed at minimizing Nucor’s impact on the environment. Nucor can proudly say it is North America’s largest recycler, last year using approximately   17 million tons of scrap steel to produce new steel.

Scrap takes less energy to melt than iron ore so Nucor saves energy with every ton of scrap melted. The company also recycles 80 percent of its waste streams. Oxidized surface steel, or mill scale, is sold to cement companies to be recycled as part of its products. Nucor also recycles the water used in its processes – multiple times.

Clockwise from top left: The roof of electric arc furnace #1 opens to accept a scrap charge; electric arc furnace #2 melts both scraps and iron products into molten steel; the electrical arc that melts the steel reaches a temperature of about 20,000°; work rolls are staged in front of the compact steel production hot mill for an upcoming roll change.

Nucor is continuously improving its energy efficiency to produce more steel with less energy consumed. In fact, Nucor uses one quarter of the energy the average American steel mill uses to make a ton of steel, and seven times less than the average steel mill in China.

Although Nucor has already won numerous innovation awards for its energy efficiency, the company continues to encourage more energy saving and environmentally sound ideas. One recent innovation came in the form of a water-cooled roll, used in the tunnel furnace of the hot mill, which was replaced with a noncooled dry roll. This started as just an idea proposed by Nucor’s teammates, but soon became a reality, and now results in lower energy use, lower water use, cost savings and less impact on the environment.

The company also sets standards that take care of the little things that have a big impact, like ensuring Nucor teammates know how to dispose of every work item, from oil and rags to normal trash, in a way that will have little to no effect on the environment.

The line of fire above is actually a piece of steel in the hot rolling process moving through the finishing stands of the hot mill.

Nucor Steel – Berkeley cares about its community and the state, and the company shows that by doing business locally. Nucor purchases scrap and other materials and equipment from businesses with locations in the state, such as Charleston Recycling and Showa Denko Carbon.

Nucor also takes care of the community through conservation. Nucor has dedicated over 4,900 acres into a conservation easement held in trust by the Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust.

“I enjoy working and living in this area and, as a Nucor teammate, I believe it is important to give back in every way we can to preserve all that this area has to offer,” said Ray Sims, environmental manager at Nucor Steel – Berkeley.

Nucor also supports the community through local charities, like MUSC Children’s Hospital, Trident United Way, East Cooper Community Outreach and Hearts of Huger Revitalization Effort. These and many more organizations benefit from Nucor’s volunteerism and fundraising efforts.

Chris Kerrigan, president and CEO of Trident United Way, remarked, “Nucor is one of our top community partners. They have high participation in Day of Caring, year round engagement in the community, and a Trident United Way employee campaign that grows every year. For these reasons, in 2014 Nucor received our top Corporate Community Builder award. We are thankful for the advocacy and leadership of Nucor and the employee support we receive from every level of their organization.”  

Flat-rolled steel is rolled onto large cylinders as it comes off the mill.