BlueScope expansion can’t finish fast enough, CEO says

North Star BlueScope’s expansion of its electric-arc furnace (EAF) operations in Delta, Ohio, are proceeding as scheduled and should come online by the end of the first half of 2022, parent company BlueScope Steel said.

“Right now, I can’t get the North Star project done quick enough, quite frankly, and the team out there are running at 1,000 miles an hour to bring it to market,” BlueScope Steel managing director and chief executive officer Mark Vassella said during a conference call to discuss the company’s earnings for the first half of its fiscal 2021, the six months ended December 31, 2020.

The mill expansion is part of a surge of investment in EAF flat-rolled steelmaking in the Untied States, which is projected to add more than 13.5 million tons of domestic capacity in the near term, according to Fastmarkets’ research. 

“I’m pleased to report that the project continues to progress well and is running on time and on budget,” Vassella said on Monday February 22. “Over the last six months, construction has significantly progressed. Main process buildings are largely complete, and we are now ramping up the equipment installation phase. Workforce recruitment is progressing well, with about two-thirds of the required personnel employed. Our strategy has been to take our very best operators and place them on the project, backfilling their roles with our new recruits who join experienced teams.”

Surging steel prices worldwide, especially in North America, underscore the importance of the project, according to Vassella. 

Fastmarkets’ daily steel hot-rolled coil index, fob mill US ended 2020 at $51.50 per hundredweight ($1,030 per short ton), up by 68.36% from $30.59 per cwt ($611.80 per ton) three months earlier on October 1, 2020. The index was calculated at a record high of $60.78 per cwt ($1,215.60 per ton) on February 22.

“We’ve never seen hot-rolled coil accelerate like it has. If you look back at the Midwest chart, I think it was August where the hot-rolled coil price… was $436 [per ton]. It’s now $1,200,” Vassella said. “I mean that’s just remarkable. And it’s very challenging for us to forecast and manage that.”

Project update
BlueScope’s Ohio melt shop and tunnel furnace buildings are projected to be completed during the first six months of 2021, the company said. Original equipment manufacturer equipment has continued to arrive at the site, and the instillation work has begun.

Commissioning is expected to occur during BlueScope’s fiscal 2022, which runs from July 2021 through June 2022, according to the company’s earnings release. The project has advanced after an earlier delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As of December 31, the company has spent $354 million on the project, with $346 million of the planned $700-million investment remaining to be disbursed.

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