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Big River Lays Out Big Plans

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Big River Steel, the latest project of steel industry pioneer John Correnti, finally broke ground on the new 1.6 million ton flat-rolled mill last month, says Chief Commercial Officer Mark Bula.

Construction of the new flat-rolled electric arc furnace minimill was delayed for about a year as BRS addressed challenges to its air quality permit. The challenges have now been dismissed, the financing is in place and work will soon begin on the newest steel mill in the United States.

In a recent interview with Steel Market Update, Bula cited three reasons BRS chose the Osceola, Ark., location for the $1.3 billion project: one of the best industrial electric rates in the country, good proximity to major markets and excellent transportation options.

The ability to ship by truck, rail and barge for both inbound and outbound freight was crucial, Bula says. Located on the Mississippi River, BRS will have the option to service a wider area domestically. The fledgling company also plans to export electrical steels, which is very much an international market, he adds.
"This site is steel mill heaven," said CEO Correnti, when announcing plans for the mill. "On the east side of the property you've got Big Muddy. On the west side of the property you've got the BN railroad, a Class 1 railroad to take our product all over the country and bring scrap metal in from all over the country. Three miles west you have I-55. Logistically, it's great."

The initial markets the mill plans to serve include service centers, pipe and tube, transportation, construction and miscellaneous manufacturing.

BRS will be different than the other mills in the area, Bula says, and represents a natural evolution of the steel industry. "Steel mills have to innovate or die. We think we can get into new markets," he says.
The first of a three-phase construction process will include installation of an electric arc furnace, caster, hotstrip mill, pickle tandem cold mill and galvanizing line. Two other pieces of equipment--a longer tunnel furnace with higher heat capabilities and an RH Degasser--will allow the new mill to produce a wide range of advanced high-strength steels, as well as a full range of API pipe grades--products previously reserved for fully integrated mills, the company claims.

The new mill will be able to run slabs off the caster as thin as 2 inches to over 3 inches in thickness to allow for proper reductions to achieve certain grade and surface qualities. The hot-strip mill will be able to produce hot-rolled, hot-rolled pickled and oiled (HRPO), cold-rolled and galvanized products, as well as electrical steels.

BRS and its equipment supplier, SMS Siemag, have designed the caster and hot-strip mill to produce hot bands up to 1-inch thick and 76-inches wide. The extra width will allow BRS to meet the full range of requirements for an ERW (electric resistance welded) pipe mill.

On the light-gauge side, BRS will produce coil down to 0.054 inch. The same mill will be able to produce cold-rolled and galvanized from 0.097 inch, for grain bin and other agricultural applications, to as light as 0.012 inch, for such uses as furnace pipe, corner bead and other construction products.

BRS will not produce galvannealed or Galvalume, Bula says. The coating line will not be focused on automotive or appliance exposed galvanized applications.

For the automotive market, BRS will concentrate on producing AHSS for vehicle frames, supports and other non-exposed applications. The lighter, stronger steels will appeal to customers outside of automotive, as well, Bula says.

Besides automotive, BRS says its products will be a natural fit for two other major markets: energy, including oil country tubular goods and API grades of pipe, and coiled plate.

The investments BRS is making to produce AHSS and API grades match up well with electrical steels, Bula says. At the conclusion of Phase 1, the company expects to produce non-grain-oriented, semi-processed electrical steels. If and when it moves to Phase 2, it will consider expanding the electrical steel offerings to include both grain-oriented and non-grain-oriented silicon grade steels.

Upon completion of Phase 1 in about two years, the company will have the annual capacity to produce 1.6 million tons of flat-rolled steels. Management is realistic about the challenge ahead. "We realize it is going to take a lot of effort working with the technology and our customers," Bula says. "We are prepared that it will take time. It will be a slow evolution. We are not naïve about how hard this is going to be."
"We are prepared that it will take time. It will be a slow evolution. We are not naïve about how hard this is going to be." Mark Bula, Big River Steel, Chief Commercial Officer 

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