Trine senior design project seeks ways to prepare iron more efficiently

May 09, 2024

Briquette feed
Trine University chemical engineering majors, from left, Alexandra Davidson, Annamarie Hartman and Jake Doyle looked at the composition of iron briquettes that are melted to make pure iron, to see if different ratios or varieties of materials would reduce waste. (Photo by Dean Orewiler)
When dealing with millions of tons of metal, you want to work as efficiently as possible.

A senior design project carried out by a group of Trine University chemical engineering majors attempted to find improvements in the process of producing pure iron at Iron Dynamics, a division of Steel Dynamics, Inc.

Specifically, Alexandra Davidson of Glenside, Pennsylvania, Jake Doyle of Marengo, Illinois, and AnnaMarie Lechleidner Hartman of Bryan, Ohio, looked at the composition of iron briquettes that are melted, to see if different ratios or varieties of materials would reduce waste.

It was one of two projects Trine students conducted related to the process. Another group looked at the impact of speed and temperature on the briquettes.

More iron, less waste

The group examined ways to optimize the compressibility, which refers to the ability of the front-end solid mixture to be packed into small briquettes for melting, of the iron feed.

“As feed compressibility increases, more material can be fit into any given briquette, allowing for increased production capabilities,” said Hartman. “This project has the potential to increase compressibility of the feed mixture, resulting in less loose material upon briquetting the feed and less wasted/recycled material, which would in turn result in a higher production throughput throughout the entire process of creating liquid iron and subsequent steel products.”

The briquettes are held together with a mixture of lime and chemical byproducts that react and act as a glue. The team examined what happened with different ratios of binder to lime, as well as with different lime varieties.

“We ended up looking at the change in mixture density before and after it had been compressed to the extent of its capability, using this density difference to characterize each mixture,” said Doyle.

The group ultimately found there were not enough differences in the compressibility of the resulting briquettes to advise SDI to adjust their current operating parameters.

Real-world skills

Davidson said team members were attracted to the project by the opportunity to apply their learning to potentially have a real-world impact.

“One of the most valuable skills we were able to apply throughout this project was general problem solving,” she said. “We faced many challenges in the process of figuring out how to test our samples and acquire meaningful results. Ultimately, we came back to the idea that sometimes the simplest solution is the best one, veering away from technology and to some more crude techniques to get the best results possible.”

Though team members are headed in vastly different directions — Hartman is going to work for SDI as a process metallurgist, Doyle will return to Trine this fall to complete a double-major in chemical engineering and mathematics and Davidson will compete her MBA at Trine — they said the skills they learned and put into practice will help them in their future pursuits.

“The project management, problem-solving and teamwork skills we were able to develop over the course of this project will benefit us all greatly as we continue forward in our careers,” Davidson said.

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