McLouth Steel Mill - Power Plant and Blast Furnace Stoves
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These are some pictures of the remnants of the blast furnace stoves and the nearby power plant. The blast furnaces themselves had been torn down before I knew about this site. I initially assumed the power plant was there to provide electric power, but found that it also (or maybe solely, I'm not sure) provides hot compressed air to feed the stoves.
Due to an unfortunate camera-related incident, I have almost no pictures of the inside of the power plant. I am contacting some friends to see if they have any I can use.
Before you can make steel, you first need to make iron metal. You do that by mixing iron ore (which looks like reddish rock), coke (a fuel derived from coal), and limestone in a blast furnace. Then you blow already very hot air into the furnace at high pressure and set the mixture on fire. In a modern blast furnace, the temperature of the air entering the furnace is typically between 1,600 and 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting chemical reactions produce additional heat and reduce the iron oxides in the ore into pure metallic iron. Technically speaking, I believe this process amounts to smelting. The high temperature achieved in the furnace also melts the iron, resulting in liquid metal iron which, at this mill, was then transported to a basic oxygen furnace to be made into steel.
In order to provide the pre-heated pressurized air needed in the blast furnace, a large steam-driven turbine in the nearby power plant is used to compress air, thereby heating it significantly, and blow it through a large pipe to a set of Cowper stoves in which fuel is burnt in order to further heat the blast air. The fuel/air mixture and its combustion products are kept separate from the blast air in the stoves so as not to consume the oxygen in the blast air, which is needed to support combustion of the coke in the blast furnace.
An excess of carbon monoxide is produced in the blast furnace from the carbon contained in the coke. Although very poisonous to humans, carbon monoxide is also an excellent fuel. The excess carbon monoxide from the blast furnace is typically pumped back to the power plant where it is burned in the power plant boilers in addition to purchased natural gas or other fuels. This converts the carbon monoxide into non-poisonous carbon dioxide and also reduces fuel consumption compared to if the excess carbon monoxide were vented into the atmosphere.
The power plant exterior, showing smokestacks and pipes for the hot compressed air destined for the Cowper stoves
On this particular visit to the mill, workers were removing pollution / hazardous waste in preparation for further demolition.
I believe the right-hand side of the power plant building was a gas separation plant, for producing pure oxygen and nitrogen from air.
A coal-fired utility power plant churns away just a couple miles down the road
The Cowper stoves sit next to the McLouth power plant
Some cooling towers and a wastewater clarifier lie in the distance