Sponge iron is the product of solid state reduction of iron ore. It is also known as directly reduced iron or DRI. The process of manufacturing sponge iron or DRI is known as DR process.

Though the industrial application of sponge iron started early in the 1950s, it could not fulfill industry expectations at that time in being used as a supplementary material for feed/ alternative to blast furnaces. The main reasons were —

The gas based sponge iron plants could operate only where inexpensive natural gas was available.

The gas based sponge iron plants could operate only where inexpensive natural gas was available.

Increased scrap availability that was being traded world wide as a furnace RM.

Blast furnace capacities increased from 0.7 Mt/yr in 1960s to over 4 Mt/yr. Today the largest gas based sponge iron module available is approx. 1.0 Mt/yr. However, the environmental requirements and the capital cost required to set up new integrated steel plants have their own draw backs. In light of this, coal based sponge iron technology now indicates a new direction, particularly for Indian steel making conditions.

The production of sponge iron in India started about three decades ago triggered by the fact that in the mid-1970’s, Indian mini-steel plants started examining the viability of setting up sponge iron plant. Since India has adequate coal deposits, production of coal based sponge iron was considered a feasible option. The growth of the DRI industry till the mid 1980 was slow largely because of restrictive licensing. It was only after de-licensing in 1985 that the industry expanded rapidly.

The main sources of metallic for steel making are scrap, hot metal and DRI. Traditionally, scrap has been the main feed to EAFs. With the adoption of continuous casting, the generation of scrap has reduced drastically. Even in a developing country like India, continuous casting is extensively used to enable steel to remain competitive. Today steel industry is facing a situation of less generation of scrap accompanied by greater demand. At the same time, the quality of scrap may at best remain at today’s level, and pre-reduced materials like DRI will gradually substitute more and more scrap in making high quality steels. Consequently, the supply of sponge iron is expected to grow significantly in future years. Liquid hot metal and solid pig iron would also be used to larger extents.

In India, the State of West Bengalis blessed with rich deposits of Coal and Iron Ore suited to sponge iron manufacturing. Non Coking coal and Iron Ore is also available in nearby State of Jharkhand and West Bengal. Hence several sponge iron plants have been started in this region.

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