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November 17, 2006 A new manufacturing process developed appears set to make the production of iron much more environmentally friendly. The outstanding feature of the “Corex process” is that it uses conventional coal instead of coking coal, the customary ingredient. The world’s largest Corex-based plant is currently being built in China and is scheduled to begin operation in late 2007. It does not require a coking plant, reducing the discharge of dust and nitrogen oxides by more than 90 percent and sulphur dioxide emissions by 97 percent.
In 1988, the first commercial Corex plant was commissioned at Pretoria in the Republic of South Africa. Many of the technical problems associated with the startup of this 300,000- metric-ton-per-year demonstration plant have since been solved, and several steel companies are now considering building much larger units in the United States and Western Europe. The proposed Corex plants are still significantly smaller than existing blast furnaces but can be brought up to full operation much quicker with less cost. A key feature of the Corex process is that it uses untreated raw coal in place of coke. The ability to operate without coke gives the Corex plant two environmental advantages over the conventional blast furnace. First, because coke ovens are not needed, all of the problems associated with the generation of benzene and other coal tar byproducts are eliminated. Second, the dust problems associated with blast furnaces are also eliminated because the offgas is used as fuel.