Research project launched to strengthen the European metals industry

by David Fleschen

How can the metals industry in Europe become more sustainable while maintaining its economic competitiveness? Essential for this is to find a way to produce manganese in an environmentally friendly way, because manganese is essential for the steel, aluminium, battery and automotive industries. The European Union is now funding a research project with seven million euros with the aim of developing an integrated sustainable process for the production of manganese (Mn) and Mn alloys from Mn ores and Mn-containing waste. The Düsseldorf-based Max Planck Institute for Iron Research (MPIE) is one of 17 project partners.

Research results to be tested on an industrial scale

In 2020, about 1.4 million tonnes of manganese ferroalloys were produced in Europe. They consist of about 70% imported ores and their production causes about 2.5% of the total CO2 emissions of the metal industry in the EU. In addition, Europe imported about 111,000 tonnes of electrolytic manganese and 38,000 tonnes of electrolytic manganese dioxide in 2020. The now launched EU-wide project "Sustainable Hydrogen and Aluminothermic Reduction Process for Manganese, its alloys and Critical Raw Materials Production" (acronym: HalMan) aims to reduce imports by recycling existing industrial waste, reduce the carbon footprint of manganese production and maintain the competitiveness of the European metals industry. The project is coordinated by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and combines the expertise of the individual project partners from research and industry.

"Here at MPIE we are looking at the reduction of manganese ores and manganese-containing wastes using hydrogen and secondary aluminium sources, thereby avoiding CO2 emissions. We will analyse the kinetics of the pre-reduction process by hydrogen, better understand the role of microstructure and local chemistry in the reduction process, and reveal the fundamental mechanisms that limit the efficiency of reduction so far. We look forward to working closely with other EU partners to develop innovative technologies that will make the metals industry more sustainable," says Dr Yan Ma, group leader at MPIE and one of the project partners. Having identified the ideal process route, the MPIE team also aims to produce two high and medium manganese steels using the manganese produced in the reduction process and compare their mechanical properties with commercial steels. Steels with a high Mn content are particularly interesting for applications in low temperature ranges, such as in the storage and transport of natural gas and hydrogen. Steels with medium Mn content are crucial for lightweight construction, for example in the automotive industry. The developed process route will be tested in an industrially relevant, operational environment to ensure that the process route can be easily applied in industry.

Source: Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung, Photo: Fotolia

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