Considering that energy is one of the primary supplies used in the steel industry, and that nearly the entire supply of energy in Mexico comes from non-renewable natural resources, Altos Hornos de México has developed various projects aimed at increasing the efficiency in the use of fuels and replacing them with byproducts created as a result of the steelworks processes.
The constant drive of a responsible energy behaviour in all the employees has been undergirded by the incorporation of more efficient equipment and the replacement of natural gas and other fossil fuels by resources and byproducts that were wasted in the past.
The effort has focused on the intensive use of coal extracted from its mines, as well as gases generated in the smelting process.
In the case of blast furnaces 5 and 4, for example, high-end technology plants were installed to replace most of the natural gas with pulverized coal, which is produced by the mines of its subsidiary, Minerales Monclova.
Simultaneously, progress has been made toward an optimal use of the gases generated in the steelworks process (coke gas and blast furnace gas), among other energy alternatives, in order to achieve a greater substitution of natural gas.
At the present time, nearly all of the 500 million cubic meters of coke gas and blast furnace gas obtained monthly as byproducts of the coal employed at the beginning of the smelting process, are used and applied in various pieces of equipment, such as the stoves of the blast furnaces, in turbines that generate electrical power, slab reheating furnace, steam boilers, coking, pelletizing, and sintering ovens.
For this purpose, the company installed, and currently operates, nearly 20 miles of internal gas pipelines.
Besides the positive environmental impact, these measures have also represented important savings. For example, in the Pelletizing Plant, the average monthly consumption of natural gas decreased to 0.64 cubic meters per ton of product, as compared to 10.45 cubic meters recorded before the installation of a 2 kilometer gas pipeline for supplying coke gas generated internally.
Beyond these internal actions, and with a purpose of national proportions, Altos Hornos de México, in cooperation with the authorities of the state of Coahuila, has been driving the initiative to deregulate the extraction and utilization of methane gas from the coal mines.
The state of Coahuila is the largest producer of coal in the country, however, due to legal restrictions, it is not allowed to make use of the energy potential of coal-associated methane gas (also known as “coalbed gas” or “sweet gas”).
This coalbed methane has a caloric power comparable to that of natural gas derived from oil. Furthermore, it is a mortal enemy of miners, and for safety reasons, most major companies must extract it from the mines in order to increase safety, and to comply with legal restrictions, they release it into the atmosphere.
This practice represents an important negative environmental impact, while at the same time it is a senseless waste of fuel equivalent to 20 percent of the natural gas Mexico imports each year.
Even though the pace has been slow, the AHMSA initiative has prospered, and the fundamental changes for the deregulation of gas use were approved by the Mexican Congress. At the present time the details of the legislation for the use and exploitation rights of gas are being finalized.
Additionally, going forward, Altos Hornos and its companies are analyzing various environmentally positive energy initiatives, such as the use of solar energy, wind, and other options for savings and efficiency.