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ArcelorMittal burns harbor facility Recycles byproduct into fertilizer for local farmers

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By Nagendra Singh
It’s widely known that ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor makes high-quality steel products, but did you know the facility’s coke plant also sells ammonium sulfate fertilizer to local farmers?

Gas from coke ovens contains high amounts of ammonia, which is highly corrosive to the pipelines it travels through during production. This can create serious issues for the Burns Harbor power station, a consumer of the coke oven gas. Fortunately, the byproducts plant at Burns Harbor can remove the ammonia from the gas and convert it into useful ammonium sulfate fertilizer.

From this process, the Burns Harbor coke plant generates about $3 million in revenue each year. This fertilizer is a vital product for farmers in the Midwest.

For the past 20 years, ArcelorMittal has contributed to the success of the farmers in northern Indiana by supplying a good-quality product at a low price. However, over the last five years, Chinese imports have threatened to erode our competitiveness. In response to this looming threat, the Burns Harbor coke plant initiated a quality-improvement project.

An ArcelorMittal team sat down with our customers to talk about their concerns. The discussions identified three key issues. First, lumps of the product were hard to offload from the trucks and difficult to use. Second, contamination from chunks of foreign materials reduced the effectiveness of the fertilizer. Third, inaccurate loading of the trucks forced the trucks to drive back and forth between a distant scale and the plant to get the right weight, wasting time and money. To compete with international players, it became essential to solve these issues.

As a result, a high-tech sulfate conditioner is now in operation. The sulfate conditioner solves the three issues that concerned customers the most. Its screw feeders crush the large lumps into a freely flowing granular product. Truck operators appreciate the ease with which they can handle the crushed product and farmers find it easy to apply the product to their fields.

The conditioner’s screens separate the fertilizer from chunky foreign contaminants. The farmers are thus able to get better value for their money when they use our high-purity fertilizer.

Fitted with in-built load cells, the conditioner accurately measures the load on each truck. As a result, our customers get precisely the amount of fertilizer they need. It also reduces transportation costs and keeps our customers happy.

At the core of this improvement is the application of technology. The load required by the truck driver is entered into a computer in the coke oven office, which generates a bill of lading. The required weight is automatically transmitted to the payloader, which is fitted with a wireless tablet. The tablet communicates the required load to the sulfate conditioner. As the payloader feeds the conditioner with fertilizer, the load cells transmit the delivered load reading to the master program. This master program automatically cuts off the fertilizer supply when the required load is met.

As a result, the truck driver does not need to drive over to the plant scale to verify his weight. This has further reduced the expense of using the leased plant scale.

This investment has helped ArcelorMittal retain some of its most valuable accounts. Taking the time to listen to our customers – and working hard with them to solve our issues – has left a lasting impact on our relationships. They genuinely feel we truly care about them and are committed to providing a quality product.

Nothing validates our efforts more than our customers, who have made it clear that they believe we have the best solutions to address their sulfate needs.

(Nagendra Singh is a process manager in operations technology at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor)

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