Iron Carbide and Carbon Monoxide

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iron carbide is a dark gray, powdery feed material for steelmaking in electric arc furnaces and basic oxygen furnaces. It is highly refractory and offers remarkable cost savings.

It can be produced from a variety of iron ores, including goethite, hematite, siderite, limonite and magnetite, by the reaction of two elements, Fe and C, producing an intermetallic compound known as cementite or Fe3C. This material is metastable and decomposes under high temperature to produce ferrite and carbon. It can also react with low carbon content a-ferrites to form carbon-depleted allotriomorphic ferrite, or at higher carbon contents, iron carbide.

The most important effect of adding carbon to iron is the improvement in mechanical properties, especially strength and toughness. In its pure form, iron is soft and brittle, but when combined with carbon it forms the alloy called steel, which is much stronger and more ductile.

In addition to its metallurgical benefits, iron carbide can be a valuable raw material for the production of carbon monoxide. In an electric arc furnace, it is injected along with the a-ferrite to generate a large quantity of carbon monoxide bubbles which thoroughly mix and homogenize the molten metal bath, avoiding temperature gradients and absorbing nitrogen and hydrogen, and hence increasing the degree of metallization of the steel, reaching 100 %, as opposed to DRI or HBI which are only 92 % to 95 %. This is due to the powerful chemical reducing action of carbon monoxide, which is far superior to that of sulphur or molten iron oxide alone.