ISIJ International
Online ISSN : 1347-5460
Print ISSN : 0915-1559
ISSN-L : 0915-1559
Review Articles
Production and Technology of Iron and Steel in Japan during 2017

2018 Volume 58 Issue 6 Pages 987-998


1. Overview of the Japanese Iron and Steel Industry

Looking back on 2017, this was a year of major changes in the political landscape around the world, as President Trump took office in the United States in January, followed by governmental elections in Europe and Lower House elections in Japan, among other developments. In Japan, in spite of lingering feelings of uncertainty regarding personal consumption, 2017 was a year of favorable economic conditions supported by the firm tone in the global economy, as corporate profits turning toward improvement, and there was also a recovering trend in capital investment. During the year, the economy marked the 2nd longest period of economic recovery in the period after the Second World War, surpassing the Izanagi Boom of 1965–1970. As a result, the real GDP growth rate in fiscal year 2017 is forecast to be around 1.9%, with nominal GDP growth of approximately 2.0%.1,2) Looking at the main economic indicators, the industrial production index has shown a rising tendency since 2016; as of December 2017, this index had continued to increase against the same month of the previous year for 14 consecutive months, reaching 106.3.3) The employment situation in Japan also took a clear favorable turn, as an improving tendency in the unemployment rate, the effective job opening-to-application ratio and other indicators continued through the year.4)

As trends in the world steel industry, the problem of excess production capacity became apparent, particularly in China, which continued to enjoy high growth. In December 2016, the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity was formally established by the G20 member nations as a platform for discussions on this issue. The Chinese government drew up its 13th Five-Year Plan in 2016, setting a numerical target of reducing iron and steel production capacity by 100–150 million tons over the next 5 years. Amid these trends, two leading major Chinese steel makers, the Baosteel Group (Shanghai City) and Wuhan Iron and Steel Corporation (Wuhan City), merged at the end of 2016 to form a new company, the China Baowu Steel Group. Further adjustments in the Chinese steel were made in 2017, and there were reports that illegal operations, represented by production of inferior-quality induction furnace steel (known as ditiaogang in China), in which products are manufactured simply by melting scrap and solidifying, were completely abolished. Although production equivalent to that amount was presumably shifted to existing blast furnace and electric furnace steel makers, Chinese domestic demand was strong overall, and the country’s crude steel production increased from 786.88 million tons in the previous year to 831.73 million tons in 2017. Reflecting this trend, world crude steel production turned positive in 2017, reaching 1691.22 million tons, after declining for two consecutive years following a peak of 1669.45 million tons in 2014 (Table 1).5)

Table 1. Top 10 crude steel production countries (Source: WSA; Unit: Mt).5)
Top 10
20142015Growth rate from previous year 2015/2014 (%)2016Growth rate from previous year 2016/2015 (%)2017Growth rate from previous year 2017/2016 (%)
World total1669.51620.0▲3.01606.2▲0.91691.25.3

Next, turning to the iron and steel industry in Japan, in steel-consuming industries, favorable conditions continued in public works in the building market. Although manufacturing industries lacked strength during 2016, an increasing tendency was also seen in automobiles, industrial machinery, shipbuilding and other fields. Reflecting these conditions, Japanese crude steel production in 2017 (calendar year) was 104.66 million tons, which was roughly the same level (0.1% decrease) as the 104.77 million tons of the previous year (Fig. 1).6) Regarding trends in raw materials for iron and steel, the price of metallurgical coal rose sharply from the end of 2016 amid concerns of supply shortages due to weather and equipment problems in the producing countries, and then remained on a high level with sharp short-term fluctuations. The price of iron ore also showed a firm underlying tone due to increased imports by China. Fortunately, Japan enjoyed a good economic condition, and a tight steel supply-and-demand situation supported by adjustments in sales prices, contributing to improved performance at various steel companies.

Fig. 1.

Transition of crude steel production in Japan (calendar year).5,6)

For the past several years, consolidation of equipment in the upstream process and modernization of aged coke ovens has been underway, mainly on the blast furnace steel makers. In October 2017, as planned, Kobe Steel, Ltd. shut the upstream process (blast furnace to continuous caster, some breakdown rolling equipment) at Kobe Works and consolidated that production into Kakogawa Works. In coke oven modernization, during 2017, both Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation (NSSMC) and JFE Steel Corporation expanded equipment or carried out pad-up rebuilds, in which the foundation of the old coke oven is reused, at coke ovens that were put into operation around 1970 and were suffering progressive deterioration with age after use for roughly 50 years. On the other hand, in 2017, examples of equipment and operational problems could occasionally be seen at various steel companies, and production volume was also affected, leading to strong demand for more stable operation in addition to operational safety and security. Looking at industry trends in Japan, NSSMC made Nisshin Steel Co., Ltd. a subsidiary in March, and adjustments aiming at reorganization were also promoted in steel-related trading companies and the logistics industry.

As conditions surrounding the Japanese iron and steel industry in 2017, the following presents an overview of the trends in raw materials for iron and steel, the trends in steel-consuming industries, and the condition of crude steel production in Japan and the world.

1.1. Trends in Raw Materials for Iron and Steel

According to announcements by the three iron ore majors (Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton), a tone of increasing production also continued in 2017, and production was at historically high levels at all three companies.7,8,9) Nevertheless, iron ore prices rose due to the basic tone of increasing steel production worldwide, together with temporary production decreases due to equipment problems, at the origin of shipments. According to the contractual iron ore prices announced by steel makers, the price of iron ore rose from the beginning of 2017, reached a peak in the second quarter of the year, and then declined to the level at the start of the year. Market conditions were characterized by repeated rises and falls through the year.10,11)

Metallurgical coal was also affected by the basic global tone of increasing pig iron production, and the supply-and-demand equation was similar to that for iron ore.12) According to announcements by steel makers, the unit contractual price of metallurgical coal has risen sharply since October 2016. During that period, the metallurgical coal market experienced repeated increases and decreases through the year.10,11)

Figure 2 shows the transition of world pig iron production and the unit price of imported iron ore and metallurgical coal.13) According to this figure, the highest prices of iron ore and metallurgical coal in 2011 were US$167/t for iron ore and US$229/t for coal, but in 2016, those prices declined to US$56.70/t and US$90.10/t. On the other hand, in 2017, iron ore rose to US$76.20/t and metallurgical coal rose to US$149.70/t, and this sharp global rise in the price of raw materials impacted production costs.

Fig. 2.

Transition of world pig iron production and unit price of imported iron ore & metallurgical coal (calendar year).5)

1.2. Trends in Steel-consuming Industries

According to the Quarterly Report of Iron and Steel Supply and Demand14) of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation (JISF) and the websites of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Shipbuilders Association of Japan, Japan Electrical Manufacturers Association, etc., the trends in steel-consuming industries during 2017 were generally as follows.

For details, please refer to the original Japanese text or the websites of the JISF, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) and the respective industrial associations.

[Civil engineering] Activities in the civil engineering sector in FY 2017 continued to increase from the previous year against the backdrop of the carry-over of the large-scale supplementary budget in public civil works, and urban redevelopment looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in private sector civil works. The value of orders received for public civil works is expected to increase due to the carry-over of the large-scale supplementary budget for FY 2016 for the Kumamoto Earthquakes, in addition to ongoing infrastructure construction associated with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and the Tokyo-Gaikan Expressway. An increase in the value of orders received for private sector civil works from the previous year is also expected, supported by the progress of redevelopment, centering on the Tokyo Metropolitan area, and the full-scale start of construction of the Linear (Chuo) Shinkansen Maglev Line.

[Construction] In the construction sector in FY 2017, a turn to decrease for the first time in 3 years is foreseen in residential construction, where a favorable tone had continued, but a continuing increase from the previous year is expected in nonresidential construction. Where residential construction is concerned, in addition to construction of rental housing to reduce inheritance taxes under the revised Inheritance Tax Act, which took effect January 2015, an increasing tendency in construction of owner-occupied housing also continued, corresponding to the prolonged ultra-low interest rate policy, and this buoyed results overall. Moreover, construction of owner-occupied had also continued to increase as interest rates for home loans remained on a low level. However, both owner-occupied homes and rental housing will decrease, as both sectors are expected to fall below the levels of the previous fiscal year due to a decline in those effects. Nonresidential construction is expected to increase due to increased factory construction for modernization of aging equipment, and rationalization of production. thanks to improved corporate profits, particularly in exporting companies, and increased hotel construction to accommodate the increasing numbers of foreign tourists visiting Japan.

[Shipbuilding] Amid the continuing global oversupply of ships, signs that conditions in the shipping market have bottomed out could be seen, and orders for shipbuilding increased substantially in comparison with the previous year, when a historically low level was recorded. Although shipyards have continued construction activities while drawing down work in hand, a positive turn in the volume of work in hand could be seen at the end of October 2017.

[Automobiles] Domestic automobile sales increased in FY 2017 due to the effect of new models and the mitigation of the general impact of the fuel economy falsification problem in light automobiles.15) Exports of complete automobiles increased due to a recovery in the European market, a favorable tone in exports of Japanese automobiles in the North American market, and moves by some makers to increase production at domestic bases. As a result, production of complete automobiles and consumption of steel materials both increased. According to the Japan Automobile Manufacturer Association, unit production of 4-wheel vehicles in 2017 was 9684146, representing an increase of 479444 units, or approximately 5.2%, from the 9204702 units in 2016.

[Industrial machinery] Looking at industrial machinery production activities in FY 2017, construction machinery, internal combustion engines, and transportation vehicles, exceeded the previous year as a result of a surge in demand, mainly in the first half of the fiscal year, during the period of exhaust gas regulation transitional measures (until August 2017), etc. In the field of metal processing and machine tools, in addition to a large increase in exports to China from the beginning of 2017 due to the strong tone in global business conditions, exports to Europe and North America also increased, and these and other factors resulted in increases in exports of virtually all types of machinery. Due to these favorable conditions, industrial machinery as a whole is expected to exceed the results in the previous year.

[Electrical machinery] Among the trends in electrical machinery during FY 2017, as a result of the strong tone of the domestic business climate, motor-related demand was firm, and external demand mainly for China also increased, and high-level of production activities were seen in heavy electrical equipment. In home electrical appliances, there was a strong underlying tone, supported by demand for energy saving and high value-added products. Accompanying an increase in automobile production, consumer electronics were also firm including car navigation systems, and sales were on the same level as in the previous year. In telecommunications equipment and industrial electronic equipment, signs suggesting increased demand for servers and storages can be seen, particularly among large companies, but the trend was somewhat weak, as there are also moves to reduce the number of servers by server integration and virtualization. As a result, consumption of steel materials in the electrical machinery sector as a whole is expected to increase very slightly from 2016, and that increase will be due to an increase in heavy electrical equipment, which has a high share of steel materials.

In response to these trends in steel-consuming industries, during 2017, the iron and steel making companies of the Sustaining Members of the ISIJ developed new products for the fields of the civil engineering, construction, automobile and others, as shown in detail in Table 9 below.

1.3. Crude Steel Production in Japan

Crude steel production in Japan in 2017 (calendar year) was 104.66 million tons, or a decrease of 0.1% from the 104.77 million tons in 2016. Following the 2008 financial crisis, crude steel production exceeded 110 million tons in 2013 and 2014. In spite of keeping the 100 million ton level in 2017, this key indicator has now decreased from year to year for 3 consecutive years. By furnace type, converter steel production was 79.34 million tons (decrease of 2.7% from previous year), and electric furnace steel production was 24.94 million tons (increase of 8.7% from previous year), and the ratio of electric furnace steel was 23.9% (increase of 1.9% from previous year) (Fig. 1).6) By steel type, production of plain carbon steel was 79.57 million tons (decrease of 1.5% from previous year) and production of special steel was 25.10 million tons (increase of 4.4% from previous year). It may be noted that the continuous casting ratio of special steel was 94.9%, which was a slight decrease from the 95.2% of the previous year (Fig. 3).6)

Fig. 3.

Crude steel production and continuous casting ratio for ordinary steel and special steel.

The Japan Iron and Steel Federation has published its Forecast of Iron and Steel Demand for FY 2018.17) According to their forecast, in FY 2018, domestic iron and steel demand in the construction sector is expected to show an increase in demand for nonresidential construction. On the other hand, demand for civil works will be almost flat in comparison with the previous fiscal year, when demand was high. As a result, a slight increase in total construction demand in comparison with the previous year is forecast. In manufacturing industries, a firm tone is expected in demand for machinery related to capital investment, but on the contrary, a slight minus can be seen in automobiles in comparison with the high level in FY2017. Overall demand in manufacturing industries is expected to be on the same level as in FY2017. Likewise, total domestic demand is seen as almost flat, with a slight increase from FY2017. Where world iron and steel demand in 2018 is concerned, according to the World Steel Association (WSA),18) a modest increase against the previous year is foreseen, and iron and steel exports from Japan are expected to slightly exceed those in FY 2017, while imports will be on the same level as in FY 2017. As a result, crude steel production in Japan in FY 2018 is forecast to slightly exceed that in FY 2017. However, continuing monitoring of the geopolitical risks of North Korea, and the Middle East, the condition of efforts to reduce excess production capacity in China and other issues, will also be necessary in the future.

1.4. World Crude Steel Production

According to the WSA, world crude steel production in 2017 (calendar year) was 1691.22 million tons, which was an increase of 5.3% in comparison with the 1662.6 million tons of the previous year.5) In 2015, world crude steel production decreased on a year-to-year basis for this first time in 6 years as a result of a decrease in production in China, which had continued to increase until then. Although there was also a slight decrease in 2016, world crude steel production turned positive again in 2017. Looking at crude steel production in the main steel-producing countries, production in China increased by 5.7% from the previous year, reaching 831.73 million tons. Although the Chinese government has carried out a rationalization of excess production capacity, this result may be due to curtailment of the above-mentioned production of inferior-quality induction furnace steel from scraps, which was generally said to be around 60 million or 80 million tons and was outside the former framework of crude steel production statistics, and conversion to regular production in the statistics. In Japan, as noted above, crude steel production decreased by 0.1% from the previous year, to 104.66 million tons. India’s crude steel production has grown to 101.37 million tons, and as a distinctive feature, it has shown a continuing increasing tendency (Table 1). Among the top 10 countries, crude steel production has increased in all countries except Japan. On the other hand, the average operating rate of the main 66 countries in 2017 was 72.3%,19) or an increase of 3.0% from the 69.3% in 2016.

2. Technology and Equipment

2.1. Technical Environment of the Japanese Iron and Steel Industry

In 2015, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) compiled “Plans on Competitiveness Improvement of Metallic Materials” as a policy for strengthening the competitiveness of the metallic materials industry, and proposed the three strategies: I. Strategy for technology development, II. Strategy for strengthening domestic manufacturing infrastructure, and III. Global strategy.20) In this plan, the following were mentioned as issues confronting the metallic materials industry: i) Sophistication and diversification of user needs for materials, ii) Threat of competitors overseas catching up, iii) Decrease of domestic demand, and limiting factors in business, such as energy and environmental restrictions, and human resource and equipment restrictions, iv) Impact of digitalization on reform. As directions for technology development stated in I., the strategy presents development of material design technologies, development of manufacturing technologies, development of analysis and evaluation techniques, training of human resources, preventive maintenance utilizing digital data, development of effective utilization technologies for resources and energy, and development of materials considering environmental loads. For strengthening domestic manufacturing infrastructure stated in II., the strategies include prevention of industrial accidents, strengthening of competitiveness by business reorganization, response to energy and environmental problems, response to the impact of digitalization. As one item of III. Global strategy, the plan mentions resource circulation, including recycling, as a response to raw material supply risks. All Japanese steel makers are promoting technical development and introduction of equipment in line with these issues and directions.

During the past several years, consolidation of equipment in the upstream process and modernization of aged coke ovens have been underway, mainly on blast furnace steel makers, while on the other hand, examples of equipment- and operation-related troubles have occasionally occurred at various companies, in some cases affecting production, and this has led to strong demand for more stable operation in addition to operational safety and security. Against this background, the Japanese steel industry is steadily promoting the development of products that answer user needs, for example, the development of ultra-high tensile strength steel with high formability, amid increasing competition between materials, while continuing to consider cooperation between materials by pursuing new value by combinations of different materials. Moreover, efforts involving the introduction of state-of-the-art IT technologies are underway in the field of steel manufacturing equipment maintenance, and companies are also attempting to realize improved productivity in the maintenance field and transfer of technologies corresponding to a rapid change of generations by utilizing databases and AI technology to take advantage of the past experience of the veteran personnel. The following introduces the main trends in technology and technical topics at the Sustaining Member companies of the ISIJ by field of iron and steel technology.

2.2. Iron-making

Pig iron production in calendar year 2017 was 78.33 million tons, which was a decrease of 2.3% in comparison with the 80.19 million tons in 2016.21) As of the end of 2017, 25 blast furnaces were in operation, as Kobe Steel shut down Kobe No. 3 BF (inner volume: 2112 m3) on October. The number of blast furnaces with inner volumes of 5000 m3 or larger was unchanged at 14. Average productivity decreased to 1.88 ton/m3/day from 1.92 ton/m3/day in 2016.

In the field of iron-making, including repairs of aged coke ovens, attention is focused on moves in capital investment. NSSMC decided to expand F battery of Kashima No. 1 coke oven and E battery of Kashima No. 2 coke oven and carry out repairs of A and B batteries of Kimitsu No. 4 coke oven and Kimitsu No. 5 coke oven, and continuing from that work, carry out repairs of No. 5 West coke oven at Hokkai Iron and Coke Corporation. JFE Steel decided to expand B battery of No. 6 coke oven and carry out repairs of A battery of No. 1 coke oven, A and B batteries of No. 3 coke oven and A and B batteries of No. 2 coke oven at West Japan Works (Kurashiki), as well as repairs of A and B batteries of No. 6 coke oven at East Japan Works (Chiba), to be followed by repairs of A and B batteries of No. 3 coke oven at West Japan Work (Fukuyama). In the iron-making pretreatment process, JFE Steel announced plans to renovate No. 3 sinter plant at West Japan Works (Fukuyama).

On the other hand, shutdowns of blast furnaces are progressing with the aim of improving the cost competitiveness of the iron-making process. At the end of October 2017, Kobe Steel shut down Kobe No. 3 BF. Nisshin Steel has announced that it will expand and reline Kure No. 1 BF and shut down Kure No. 2 BF in or after 2024. Although the number of blast furnaces in operation will decrease due to stoppage of a blast furnace with a comparatively small inner volume, the average inner volume per unit will increase.

As test equipment, JFE Steel announced the construction of a pilot plant for production of ferrocoke at West Japan Works (Fukuyama). The pilot plant scheduled for construction in this project will be a medium-scale production facility with a capacity of 300 t/d, and will be constructed as “Environmentally” Harmonized Steelmaking Process Technology Development/Development of Iron-making Process Technology Using Ferrocoke” project with support by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The aims of this project are to develop a ferrocoke production technology that greatly reduces CO2 emissions when ferrocoke is used in the blast furnace and strengthens resource flexibility by energy saving and use of low quality coal and iron ore, and to establish a technology that realizes a 10% reduction in energy consumption in the iron-making process by around 2022 through the demonstration research at this facility.22)

2.3. Steelmaking

Crude steel production during calendar year 2017 was 104.66 million tons, which was a decrease in comparison with the 104.77 million tons of 2016 (Fig. 1).6)

Kobe Steel stopped operation of the steelmaking shop at Kobe Works on October, 2017 due to consolidation of the upstream process. In the series of activities related to consolidation of the upstream process, at Kakogawa Works, construction of No. 6 continuous casting machine was completed on January 2017 and a dephosphorization treatment plant was started up in August. A vacuum degassing furnace was also constructed for molten steel treatment. As future plans for equipment construction, JFE Steel announced that it will construct a continuous casting machine at West Japan Work (Kurashiki) targeting completion in 2021.

It is thought that the sharp rise in raw material prices worldwide will also impact the cost of steelmaking. According to a refractory maker, the supply of magnesia and other raw material used in refractories has decreased due to regulations in China.23) Therefore, it is assumed that the price of magnesia based refractories will rise, and as a result, the cost of the steelmaking process will also increase. In electric furnace steelmaking, the prices of electrodes has increased dramatically, and according to an electrode manufacturer, the cause is a tight supply of the raw material needle coke and increased demand for electrodes for the electric furnace steelmaking process.24)

2.4. Steel Products

2.4.1. Sheets

NSSMC expanded the applications of “High Strength Bearing Wall,” in which burring processing is applied to high corrosion resistance galvanized steel sheets. In addition to the 4-story steel houses that were the original object of development, the company is expanding its range of applications to include the design of large open spaces with high ceilings, increased design freedom and cost reduction in 3-story steel houses, use as seismic reinforcement in renovations of wood-frame houses.

JFE Steel created a series of high strength steel sheets with high formability for automotive parts, which is the first in the Japanese steel industry. In order to supply the optimum steel sheet corresponding to the intended product shape and processing method to be used, the company developed cold-rolled steel sheets and galvannealed steel sheets (GA) in a wide range of strength grades and formability levels, resulting in a product line of three types of sheets, high elongation type, high elongation-high stretch-flangeability type and super-high elongation type, each available in a strength range from 590 to 1180 MPa class.

Kobe Steel developed a cold-rolled steel sheet (strength after hardening: 1470 MPa class) for hot stamping with excellent pressing productivity, and is smoothly mass-producing this product for automobile body frames. Hardenability was greatly improved, mainly by skillful design of the steel sheet composition, enabling a large reduction in cooling time in the die. This made it possible to improve pressing productivity by approximately 2 to 4 times in comparison with the conventional process. As an additional feature of this product, inadequate strength due to nonuniform cooling rarely occurs.

2.4.2. Plates and Pipes

JFE Steel developed a YP 460 MPa class high arrestability steel with the world’s largest plate thickness of 100 mm, which can be applied to ultra-large container ships. Composition design that enables easy adjustment of the crystal orientation in the microstructure during rolling made it possible to secure high crack arrestability, and both high arrestability and weldability were realized for the first time in the world by reducing alloy addition to absolute minimum, which was possible as a result of optimization of the TMCP (thermomechanical control process) technology. This can contribute to the further upscaling of container ships. JFE Steel also developed a stainless clad steel plate that can be used in the cargo tanks of chemical tankers, and received manufacturing method approval from the Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (Class NK) ship classification society. It is expected to be used in actual chemical tankers in the future.

2.4.3. Bars and Shapes

NSSMC and J-Witex Corporation jointly developed a high corrosion resistance zinc alloy-coated steel wire. The new product has approximately 8 times higher corrosion resistance than conventional Zn-coated wires and thus can reduce costs by dramatically extending the lives of related products and equipment. The expected applications include power transmission lines, communications cable tension members, overhead wires for railroads and other applications where hard steel wires are used.

JFE Steel carried out a modernization investment as the first step in strengthening the production infrastructure of the shape mill at West Japan Works (Kurashiki) and started commercial operation on March 18. This investment made it possible to respond surely to vigorous construction demand by further stabilizing production and achieving higher production efficiency of high function materials and high strength materials, beginning with main products for construction.

2.5. Construction and Civil Engineering

In order to enhance the functionality of buildings, there has been a tendency in recent years to reduce the number of columns in buildings and increase the load supported by each column. In addition, the practice of using only one pile per column has been adopted in order to reduce construction costs, and as a result, the bearing capacity required in piles has increased. JFE Steel Corporation and Japan Pile Corporation jointly developed high bearing capacity steel piles with an enlarged pile-head, in which a steel pipe with steel ribs attached to the inside and outside of the pile tip and a bulb-shaped foot-protection part are integrated into a single unit. Because the vertical bearing capacity and horizontal resistance per pile are both large, it is possible to reduce the number of piles, decrease the foundation dimensions and shorten the construction time for foundations of large buildings in which high bearing capacity and earthquake performance are required.

2.6. Environment and Energy

2.6.1. Government Efforts

The 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23), the 13th session of the Conference of Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP13) and the second session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1-2) were held in Bonn, Germany from November 6 to 17, 2017.25)

Through this COP23, Japan’s three main targets of (i) promoting discussions surrounding the implementation policy of the Paris Agreement, (ii) completing the design of the Talanoa Dialogue and (iii) promoting action on the global climate, are evaluated as generally having been achieved. In the discussions in connection with the implementation policy of the Paris Agreement, Japan proposed technical content in subjects including “NDC (nationally determined contribution; targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2020), “Transparency framework” and “Market mechanism,” which are priorities for Japan. Some of the developing countries strongly stressed that a difference in the efforts of the advanced countries and those of developing countries based on the Paris Agreement should be established, and there were also moves to expand the scope of each organization; on the contrary, Japan, together with the other advanced countries, emphasized the necessity of establishing a policy that promotes the efforts of all countries, and the undesirability of dividing the policy into two different policies for the advanced countries and developing countries. Continuing from this, as there are clear differences in the claims between some of the developing countries and the other countries, how to constructively formulate an implementation policy while maintaining the mandate of the Paris Agreement in the future, will be an issue for adoption of a policy at COP24.25)

2.6.2. Efforts of the Japanese Steel Industry

The Japan Iron and Steel Federation (JISF) is continuing the “Voluntary Action Programme for the Iron and Steel Industry” implemented during the First Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol, and is currently promoting “Commitment to a Low Carbon Society – Phase I” targeting FY 2020. In November 2014, the JISF also established Phase II of the “Commitment to a Low Carbon Society” program targeting FY 2030, anticipating the setting of Japan’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for greenhouse gas emissions (target: FY 2030). The basic concepts of these voluntary efforts are four main pillars, namely, the three “eco” approaches of “Eco-Processes,” “Eco-Products” and “Eco-Solutions” and “Innovative Technology Development.”26) In FY 2016, the CO2 emissions of the companies participating in the “Commitment to a Low Carbon Society” were 179.06 million tons on a BAU basis. The amount of reductions was 2.46 million tons in comparison with the FY 2005 baseline, and the ratio of progress toward the target (3.00 million tons) was more than 80%. The total emissions of the iron and steel industry in FY 2016 were 186.75 million tons.27)

Eco-Processes are process with the aim of energy-saving/CO2 reduction efforts in iron and steel production processes, Eco-Products contribute to reductions in the product use stage by supply of high functionality steel products, and Eco-Solutions contribute to reduction at the global scale by transfer and dissemination of energy-saving technologies developed and used practically by the Japanese steel industry. As Innovative Technology Development, the Japanese steel industry is grappling mainly with the development of an innovative steelmaking process (COURSE50: CO2 Ultimate Reduction in Steelmaking Process for Cool Earth 50) and development of an innovative iron-making process (Ferrocoke). Table 2 shows the targets of the “Commitment to a Low Carbon Society”.26)

Table 2. Targets of JISF Commitment to a Low Carbon Society.26)
Phase IPhase II
Eco-ProcessesReduction target of 5 million t-CO2 vs BAU*2Reduction target of 9 million t-CO2 vs BAU*1
Eco-ProductsContribute to reduction of approx. 34 million t-CO2 (estimated)Contribute to reduction of approx. 42 million t-CO2 (estimated)
Eco-SolutionsContribute to reduction of approx. 70 million t-CO2 (estimated)Contribute to reduction of approx 80 million t-CO2 (estimated)
Innovative Technology DevelopmentDevelopment of Innovative Steelmaking Process (COURSE50)30% reduction of CO2 emissions in production process by reduction of iron ore by hydrogen and separation and recovery of CO2 from blast furnace gas. Start of commercial operation of No. 1 unit around 2030*3 aiming at wide adoption by around 2050, based on the timing of replacement of blast furnace-related equipment.
Development of Innovative Steelmaking Process (Ferrocoke)Innovative technology development with the aim of satisfying both energy saving in the ironmaking process and expanded use of low grade raw materials by developing ferrocoke, which accelerates and reduces the temperature of the reduction reaction in the blast furnace, together with its operating technology.
*1   BAU: Abbrevation of “Business as Usual”; in these target values, it means the CO2 emission assuming crude steel production using FY 2005 as the baseline.

*2   Of the 5 million ton-CO2 reduction target, while continuing the commitment to a 3 million ton-CO2 reduction based on energy saving and other self-help activities, for waste plastic, etc., only the amount equivalent to the increased quantity of collected wastes, etc. against the FY 2005 baseline is counted as an actual reduction.

*3   Preconditioned on creation of infrastructure for CO2 storage and securing economic rationality for commercial equipment.

The COURSE50 project was launched in FY 2008. In Phase I, Step 1 (FY 2008–2012), development of element technologies was carried out, involving mainly reduction of iron ore by hydrogen, separation and recovery of CO2 from blast furnace gas. As a main achievement, the CO2 reduction effect (−3%) of hydrogen reduction was confirmed. In addition, a technology that reduces the amount of energy required for CO2 separation and recovery by half, to 2 GJ/t-CO2, was also developed.28) Continuing from that work, in Phase I, Step 2 (FY 2013–2017), a pilot level total demonstration test combining the various element technologies will be carried out. For continuity with Phase II, in which a demonstration test will be carried out, the following targets have been set: a) As a technology for reduction of CO2 emissions from the blast furnace, establishment of a technology for reduction of CO2 emissions from the blast furnace by using a 12-m3 test blast furnace, and b), as a technology for CO2 separation and recovery from the blast furnace gas, establishment of a technology which enables CO2 separation and recovery from blast furnace gas at a cost of ¥2000/ton-CO2.29)

The 12-m3 test blast furnace was constructed at NSSMC Kimitsu Works, and the first tapping of pig iron in hot test operation was carried out in December 2015. Since the first round of test operation in July 2016, a total of four operational tests were conducted up to December 2017, and a reduction of 9.4% against the target of a 10% reduction of CO2 emissions by hydrogen reduction was confirmed. In addition, a 3D simulation technique was also successfully developed, as it was found that the results of a 3D numerical simulation by the mathematical model of the blast furnace interior and the results of dismantled investigations of the furnace after operation, probe sampling, etc. were in good agreement.30,31)

As the goal for separation and recovery of CO2 from blast furnace gas was set at a target of 20%, a total CO2 reduction of 30%, in combination with that achieved by hydrogen reduction, appears to be possible.30,31)

The ferrocoke project was promoted over a 3 year period beginning in FY 2006 by a joint industry-academia project of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) called “Leading Research into Innovative Ironmaking Processes,” and was carried out further as the project “Technological Development of Innovative Ironmaking Process to Enhance Resource Flexibility” of METI and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) over a 4 year period beginning in FY 2009. Although this project was temporarily completed in FY 2012, NEDO began the project “Environmentally Harmonized Steelmaking Process Technology Development (Iron-making Process Technology Using Ferrocoke)” with a 5 year schedule from FY 2017.22) This technology is an energy saving technology in which the amount of coke (amount of carbon) charged into the blast furnace can be reduced in comparison with the conventional process by dramatically increasing the reduction efficiency in the blast furnace by utilizing the catalytic action of the metallic iron contained in ferrocoke, which is produced by mixing, molding and carbonizing steam coal with iron ore. In the development of this technology, a ferrocoke production technology is to be established through demonstration research with medium-scale production equipment having a ferrocoke production scale of 300 t/d, with the aim of a 10% reduction in energy consumption in the iron-making process by around the year 2022. As part of this technology development project, JFE Steel decided to construct a pilot plant with a production scale of 300 t/d at its West Japan Works (Fukuyama).

As efforts by individual steel companies, Nisshin Steel constructed a new No. 6 boiler and No. 11 turbine-generator unit (rated output: 74 MW) at Kure Works and began commercial operation in November 2017. As main features, this plant has functional equipment that supports energy saving and operational changes and stable operation of the steel works by use of clean fuel, effective utilization of byproduct gas and high efficiency equipment in the class, considering reduction of environmental impacts. Concretely, this is DCS and computer control equipment, that improves plant efficiency by approximately 4% in comparison with the previous results at the same company, and realizes the optimum power plant load balance and steam supply to the works with a steam turndown ratio of 40% to 100% by a condensing turbine, together with a backup system for the same equipment.

3. Technology Trade and Development

3.1. Technology Trade

Figure 4 shows the transition of the balance of technology trade in the steel industry up to FY 2016.32) Payments received for technology exports decreased by 13% in comparison with the previous fiscal year, while payments for technology imports decreased to about 1/4 from the previous year.

Fig. 4.

Balance of technology trade of steel.32)

3.2. Research Expenditures and Number of Researchers

The following three items were arranged using the data in Table 3 Research Activities in Companies, in the outline of results in “Statistical Survey of Researches in Japan” published by the Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The results are shown in Figs. 5, 6, 7.33)

Table 3. Examples of themes utilizing public funds in steel industry.
ClassName of projectManaging organizationStart (FY)End (FY)
ProcessesEnvironmentally Harmonized Steelmaking Process Technology Development (STEP2) COURSE50:CO2 Ultimate Reduction in Steelmaking process by Innovative technology for cool Earth 50New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO)20132017
Heterogeneous Structure Control: Towards Innovative Development of Metallic Structural MaterialsJapan Science and Technology Agency (JST)20102019
Element Strategy Initiative: To Form Core Research Centers - Structural MaterialsMinistry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)20122021
Development of Clean Coal Technologies: High-efficiency Coal-fired Power Generation TechnologiesNEDO20142017
Cross-minesterial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP) - Structural Materials for Innovation (SM4I)Cabinet Office, Japan20142018
ProductsResearch and Development of Innovative Structural MaterialsMinistry of Trade, Economy and Industry (METI)20142022
Research and Development Project on Hydrogen Utilization TechnologiesNEDO20132017
OtherManufacturing innovation through development of next-generation 3D printers, etc.METI20142018
Project for Super-Rapid Development Infrastructure Technologies for Super-Advanced MaterialsNEDO20162021
Fig. 5.

Trend of ratio of R&D expenditures to sales.33)

Fig. 6.

Trend of the number of researchers per 10000 employees.33)

Fig. 7.

Trend of R&D expenditure per researcher (10 M yen/person).33)

[Ratio of Research Expenditures to Sales] In all industries, this item had been slightly increased in FY2015; however, in FY 2016, it decreased to the level of FY2009 to 2014. In the steel industry, this index increased slightly from the previous year.

[Number of Regular Researchers per 10000 Employees] In all industries, this index turned from the increasing tendency that had prevailed until FY 2013 to decrease continuously, falling to the level of FY 2008 in FY 2016. In the steel industry, there was an increasing tendency until FY 2011, when the industry recorded its highest number, but this has dropped slightly in FY 2012 and the level continued.

[Research Expenditures per Regular Researcher] In FY 2016, all industries showed a slight decrease in comparison with the previous fiscal year. The steel industry also decreased in comparison with the previous fiscal year, but both levels of all industries and steel industry were also the same as in FY 2008 prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

3.3. Trends in Research and Development Utilizing Public Funds

Among iron and steel-related technical development projects, the NEDO project “Strategic Innovation Program for Energy Conservation Technology” and the METI projects “Grant-in-Aid for Development of Element Technologies for Practical Application of Advanced Ultra-Supercritical Thermal Power Generation,” “Advanced Ultra-Supercritical Plant (A-USC) Technology Development” and “Development of Magnetic Materials for High Efficiency Motors for Next-generation Automobiles” were completed in FY 2016. The main continuing projects are i) MEXT: “Heterogeneous Structure Control: Towards Innovative Development of Metallic Structural Materials” (FY 2010–2019, managing organization: Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)), ii) METI: “Environmentally Harmonized Steelmaking Process Technology Development (COURSE50) STEP2” (FY 2013–2017, managing organization: NEDO), iii) METI: Research and Development of Innovative Structural Materials” (FY 2014–2022, managing organization: NEDO), iv) Cabinet Office, Japan: “Structural Materials for Innovation (SM4I)” of “Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP)” (FY 2014–2018, managing organization: JST), v) “Project for Super-Rapid Development Infrastructure Technologies for Super-Advanced Materials” (FY 2016–2021, managing organization: NEDO), etc.

The main projects on iron and steel-related research and development topics being carried out with public funds are shown in Table 3. Many of these topics are in the fields such as processes, environment and energy, and materials development.

4. Development of Human Resources in Technical Fields

The Iron and Steel Institute of Japan (ISIJ) conducts corporate human resource training programs (Iron and Steel Engineering Seminars, Iron and Steel Engineering Seminar special courses, Advanced Iron and Steel Seminars) and human resource training programs for students on an on-going basis for the purpose of developing cross-industry human resources.

As human resources development programs for students, in addition to “Student Iron and Steel Seminars,” the ISIJ took over the Industry-Academic Partnership for Human Resources Development in FY 2011 and conducts “Introduction to Iron and Steel Engineering Seminar” for master’s level graduate students and the “Experiential Seminar on Advanced Iron and Steel” for undergraduates under this program. The “Introduction to Iron and Steel Engineering Seminar” is a 3.5-day course consisting of lectures on the fundamentals of iron and steel engineering and technical development at the site by instructors from universities and companies, and a plant tour on the final day (conducted at Kobe Steel Kakogawa Works in FY 2017). In FY 2017, 31 students from 17 universities participated. The “Experiential Seminar on Advanced Iron and Steel” is a 1-day course consisting of an introduction to advanced technologies related to iron and steel and the outlook for the future, as well as a plant tour. This seminar was held at four locations, JFE Steel East Japan Works (Chiba), Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Yawata Works, Daido Steel Chita Plant and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Hirohata Works. A total of 83 persons participated.

As other activities, “University Special Lectures by Top Management” by members of the top management of steel companies were held at 10 universities and “Special Lectures on Iron and Steel Technology” by the former Chairman or Executive Director of the ISIJ were held at 14 universities. A total of approximately 2200 students attended these events. The ISIJ also carried out a project supporting the cost of bus transportation for steel works tours planned by universities.

5. Technology Creation Activities in the ISIJ

In the ISIJ, Technical Committees and Interdisciplinary Technical Committees, which are affiliated with the Technical Society take the lead in survey of technical information related to iron and steel production technologies, investigation of issues for technology development and activities to solve those issues (Table 4).

Table 4. Main organization in technology creation activities of Production Technology Division.
ClassContent of activities
Technical Committees•Object: Designated fields related to iron and steel production as a whole.
•Classification of committees: Iron-making, Coke, Steelmaking, Electric Furnace, Special Steels, Refractories, Heavy Plates, Hot Strip, Cold Strip, Coated Steel Sheet, Large Sections, Bar and Wire Rod Rolling, Stee Pipe & Tubes, Rolling Theory, Heat Economy Technology, Control Technology, Plant Engineering, Quality Control, Analysis Technology (total of 19 Technical Committees).
•Participants: Steel company engineers and researchers, staff of universities, etc.
•Purpose of activities: Technical exchanges related to iron and steel production for improvement of production site technology levels, identification and solution of technical of technical problems in various fields, training of young engineers, improvement of technology by industry-academic collaboration, and technical exchanges with overseas.
•Activities: Committee meetings (1-2 times/year), meetings of Interdisciplinary Technical Committees handling designated topics, lecture meetings for training of young personnel, and various other types of plans.
Interdisciplinary Technical Committees•Object: Interdisciplinary and inter-industry technical subjects spanning various fields of the iron and steel production process.
•Classification of committees: Interdisciplinary Technical Committees on “Challenge to achieve higher quality of modern structual steels through the manufacturing process,” “Desirable steel materials for automobiles (7th Period),” and “Materials for pressure vessels (total of 3 Interdisciplinary Technical Committees).
•Content of activities: Technical study for technological directions and problem-solving, surveys and other types of research, information exchanges with other associations, etc.

5.1. Technical Committees

Technical Committees, which each promote activities in designated fields related to iron and steel production, hold regular Committee Meetings, where key issues at the present point in time are energetically discussed as common and important topics (Table 4). In FY 2017, as in FY 2016, 35 Committee Meetings (17 Spring Meetings, 18 Fall Meetings) were held. The total number of participants was 2843 (including a total of 66 researchers from universities, etc., which was a decrease of 5 from FY 2016). The total number of participants increased by about 50 persons from the 2798 in FY 2016.

Collaboration with the ISIJ’s Academic Division has also taken firm root. Technical Committees encourage exchanges such as participation by university researchers in Committee Meetings and programs for training young persons, and joint programs with the Academic Division. International exchange activities are also continuing to increase, as seen in the increasing number of committees participating international conferences, and surveys of overseas technology and plant tours, receiving of visiting groups from overseas. Technical Subcommittees, which conduct joint studies of designated technical problems as priority issues in each Technical Committee, carried out activities on 18 themes. Technical Committees are continuing to conduct lecture meetings for young engineers and plant tours and lecture meetings with other industries, etc. as on-going activities from earlier years.

5.2. Interdisciplinary Technical Committees

Interdisciplinary Technical Committees, which study interdisciplinary and inter-industry technical issues, are carrying out activities, in principle within a 3-year timeframe (Table 4). In FY 2017, three committees were active.

The Interdisciplinary Technical Committee “Pursuit of ultimate properties of practical structural steels and improvement of the reliability of practical structural steels by manufacturing by integrated production process” established the Steels for Welded Structures Group and the Steels for Machine Structural Use Group and is conducting surveys of the literature in these respective groups.

The Interdisciplinary Technical Committee on “Desirable steel materials for automobiles” submitted topics to the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan (JSAE), while continuing to explore the proper form of a new cooperative relationship with auto makers.

In the Interdisciplinary Technical Committee on “Pressure vessel materials,” continuing from FY 2016, the “Working Group on Study of Standards for Steel Materials” and the “Working Group on Evaluation of Hydrogen Embrittlement of Steel Materials for Chemical Plants” and “Working Group on High Strength Heat-Resistant Steels” carried out survey research, made presentations at international conferences, etc., and the newly-established “Working Group on Advanced Heat-Resistant Steels” began survey research activities.

5.3. Research Grants and Research Groups

The content of activities related to research grants of the ISIJ is shown in Table 5. In “Grants for Promotion of Iron and Steel Research,” 35 new projects (including 17 by young researchers) were selected as recipients of grants beginning in FY 2017. Together with the 36 projects that began in FY 2016, a total of 71 projects based on grant topics were carried out in FY 2017.

Table 5. Research grant system of ISIJ.
ClassContent of activities
Grants for promotion of iron and steel research•Purpose: Activation of iron and steel research, support for basic and infrastructural research related to iron and steel, training of young researchers
•Application process: Selected each year based on public invitation; grant period is 2 years.
•Features: Object is individual researchers, establishes a framework for young researchers.
•Number of projects: 71 (number of aid recipients in FY 2017).
Research Groups•Purpose: Activation of iron and steel research, creation of foundations for technical innovation, creation of human research network by industry-academic collaboration.
•Application process: Selected each year based on proposals, public invitation; in principle, period of activity is 3 years.
•Features: Two types of Research Groups are established, a) “Research Group I” which treats “seed”-led basic/advanced themes proposed by universities and other research institutions, and b) “Research Group II” which treats “need”-led applied/industrial themes from iron and steel companies.
•Number of projects: 21 (number in progress at end of Dec. 2017).
ISIJ Research Projects
(name changed from former ISIJ Innovative Program for Advanced Technology)
•Purpose: Solution of technical problems of iron and steel industry, research on areas which are both important and basic, development to National Projects, etc.
•Application process: Selected by public invitation; in principle, period of activity is 3 years.
•Features: Projects focus mainly on needs from steel companies.
•Number of projects: 1 (in progress at end of Dec. 2017; to be completed at the end of FY 2017, and report to be prepared during FY 2018).

In FY 2017, 21 Research Groups were active, of which 6 concluded their activities during the same fiscal year. During FY 2017, 7 new activities were begun in each of Research Group I (“Seeds”) and Research Group II (“Needs”). As Research Groups starting in FY 2018, 5 items in Group I and 3 items in Group II were selected. No new “ISIJ Research Projects” were selected in FY 2017. As “Industry-originated Project Development Iron and Steel Research,” activities on one theme selected in FY 2015 were concluded at the end of FY 2017, and the report will be compiled during FY 2018.

© 2018 by The Iron and Steel Institute of Japan