The Norwegian metallurgical industry is among the best in the world. Since the creation of Elkem in 1904 and Norsk Hydro the following year, research-led innovation has created jobs based on the fabrication of metals needed by the world. From April 2015 the Norwegian metallurgical industry has gathered together under the title SFI Metal Production.
SFI is an abbreviation for the Norwegian name of the Centre for Research-Based Innovation (Senter for Forskningsdrevet Innovasjon) and is a programme run by the Research Council of Norway. The member companies include manufacturers of ferroalloys, aluminium and titanium, academic institutions and the supply industry.
The Research Council has approved the application for the development of the research centre. It has been scheduled to run for eight years and has a total budget of 247 million Norwegian kroner. 102 million kroner has been contributed by the industry, 96 million kroner has been contributed by the Research Council and 50 million kroner has been contributed by academic institutions.
Sustainable innovation: To secure the best possible conditions to allow the Norwegian metallurgical industry to develop new, sustainable products and more environmentally responsible and energy and cost-efficient production processes.
World-leading research: To combine resources for implementation, testing and experimenting in industrial pilots to form the basis for ground-breaking global projects.
Industrial growth: To create the foundations for quicker implementation of technological breakthroughs and ensure a more uniform utilisation of these in a total production run. This will create competitive advantages to form the basis for growth and the formation of new companies.
Five research areas have been stipulated:
1. Development of modelling tools for basic conditions. NTNU and SINTEF have implemented a number of collaborative projects with the industry in order to quantify how materials develop throughout the production processes. There is a need for exact data in order to describe material properties in various conditions. The development of computer tools to optimise production would have a substantial practical value for the industry.
2. Primary metal production. Metal production requires extensive access to excellent raw materials and energy and the processes are linked to vast carbon emissions. Improved knowledge of raw materials, including the various trace substances, would be of shared interest. The same applies to process improvements that could reduce energy consumption. As an example it is theoretically possible to reduce energy consumption for the production of one tonne of ferrosilicon from 9550 kWh today to 5119 kWh, a reduction of nearly 50 percent.
3. Refining and recycling. The recycling of materials is becoming more and more important but in order to manufacture metals with the desired properties based on recycled metal it must be possible to remove impurities. Research is also necessary in respect of the utilisation of all side flows and waste/cinder from companies’ own production.
4. Emissions and the environment. Norwegian companies are among the best in the world with regard to environmental standards and low emissions. All companies use Best Available Technology (BAT) as specified internationally. Nevertheless, there is a clear expectation from both the industry and society that we need to progress further than we have today. An improved understanding of the processes allows for improved control and quick correction of deviations. It also allows for basic improvements that could result in less dust and lower emissions to water and air. Control of waste gas and utilisation of the energy in waste gas are important climate and environmental measures but also very challenging, as it is important to ensure continuous, safe and efficient production at the same time.
5. Metals and society. This research area is based on three fundamental dilemmas:
- The production of metals is based on limited raw materials.
- The earth's critical levels have been exceeded in many areas already.
- Capitalism provides the most efficient utilisation of resources but the current social and environmental challenges cannot be solved through the use of market forces alone.
Life cycle analyses and assessments demonstrating how the production and consumption of metals impact society are important to provide a better understanding of the various options. Communication with different stakeholders and the sharing of knowledge is an important factor for this research area.
Another important part of the SFI is education. In total 15 new doctorates have been added in subjects that fall within the five research areas described.
The participants are:
Academic institutions: NTNU, SINTEF and Teknova
Industry: Hydro, Alcoa, Elkem, Eramet Norway, FESIL, Finnfjord, Glencore Manganese Norway, Wacker Chemical Norway, Tizir Titanium & Iron and Alstom. Glencore Nikkelverk and Boliden Odda (zinc production) are likely to join as partners from 2018.
SFI Metal Production is managed by the Research Council of Norway's SFI programme.