The steel story: Basic Oxygen Steelmaking

Journalist Glen Humphries and photographer Sylvia Liber pull back the steel curtain and take you deep inside BlueScope's Port Kembla steelworks.

Sparks fly and flames roar as molten iron and scrap steel is turned into new steel.

To see Basic Oxygen Steelmaking in action go to YouTube and type in the phrase “Working Class Man”.

Yes, the Jimmy Barnes song. Barnsey chose BlueScope’s Basic Oxygen Steelmaking (BOS) process as the backdrop for the first half of his 1985 hit.

Standing in front of the BOS vessel as it spews flames and sparks, it’s easy to see why he chose to belt out a verse and chorus in front of it.

To watch it in action is quite striking; there’s a load roar as the mix of scrap steel and molten iron is heated up with oxygen, then flames start to climb out of the top of the vessel, changing from orange to a white so bright it forces you to turn your eyes away.

It’s also really hot - throwing more than 1500 degrees Celsius. No wonder Barnsey wore a sleeveless T-shirt while he stood in front of it.

Flames leap up out of the BOS vessel as iron begins to turn into steel.

The BOS is the point at which all the ingredients are combined to make steel.

The molten iron comes via rail from the blast furnace in torpedo ladles.

When it arrives at the BOS the torpedo ladle is tipped on its side and about 250 tonnes of molten iron poured into a hot metal pot.

While that’s happening, a huge hook is lifting up a massive skip full of the other main ingredient that will go into the BOS - around 70 tonnes of scrap steel.

Part of the advantage of using scrap steel is it means the process calls for fewer raw materials - though BlueScope is pretty picky about what sort of scrap they use.

A siren sounds, which is the signal for everyone to stand well clear of the BOS vessel or enter the perspex and metal-grilled control room opposite because of the small chance of ingredients flying out of the vessel.

The skip of scrap steel goes in first, followed by the molten iron - which starts eating the scrap and creating flames and heat.

Then an oxygen lance descends, stopping just above the molten mixture.

It shoots oxygen into the vessel at 2.5 times the speed of sound for about 16 minutes.

And that’s when all the sparks and flames that Barnsey uses in his video happens (at this stage it’s okay for Oz Rock stars - and everyone else - to come out from the control room).

What’s happening in there is the oxygen is reacting with the carbon in the vessel, which creates the heat.

At the end of the 16 minutes, the lance is removed and the vessel is tipped backwards where the 275 tonnes of molten steel runs into a ladle via a hole in the side.

The vessel then tips forward to remove the slag - a byproduct of the process that forms on top of the steel.

Then more scrap steel and molten iron goes in, and the process starts all over again.

So if Barnsey mucked up his lip-synching, he didn’t have long to wait for another load of steel to be made.

Furnace operator David Stewart.
A torpedo ladle full of molten iron ready for the BOS vessel.
Matthew Hamilton and Fonda Tsekouras in the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking operations room, which sits behind protective glass and grillwork.
Some of the hot metal pots - which carry the molten iron and steel through the plant - undergoing maintenance.
Slab caster asset manager Jeff Robinson and BOS process engineer Casey Killen.
Next Monday we look at slabcasting