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817
IRON AND STEEL


action incidental to this carburizing removes the sulphur easily and cheaply, a thing hardly to be expected of any direct process so far as we can see. (2) The carburizing incidentally carburizes the brickwork of the furnace, and thus protects it against corrosion by the molten slag. (3) It protects the molten iron against re oxidation, the greatest stumbling block in the way of the direct processes hitherto. (4) This same strong deoxidizing action leads to the practically complete deoxidation and hence extraction of the iron. (5) In that carburizing lowers the melting point of the iron greatly, it lowers somewhat the temperature to which the mineral matter of the ore has to be raised in order that the iron may be separated from it, because this separation requires that both iron and slag shall be very fluid. Indeed, few if any of the direct processes have attempted to make this separation, or to make it complete, leaving it for some subsequent operation, such as the open hearth process. In addition, the blast-furnace uses a very cheap source of energy, coke, anthracite, charcoal, and even certain kinds of raw bituminous coal, and owing first to the intimacy of Contact between this fuel and the ore on which it works, and second to the thoroughness of the transfer of heat from the products of that fuel's combustion in their long upward journey through the descending charge, even this cheap energy is used most effectively. f

Thus we have reasons enough why the blast-furnace has displaced all competing processes, without taking into account its further advantage in lending itself easily to working on an enormous scale and with trifling consumption of labour, still further lessened by the general practice of transferring the molten cast iron in enormous ladles into the vessels in which its conversion into steel takes place. Nevertheless, a direct process may yet be made profitable under conditions which specially favour it, such as the lack of any fuel suitable for the blast-furnace, coupled with an abundance of cheap fuel suitable for a direct process and of cheap rich ore nearly free from sulphur.

76. The chief difficulty in the way of modifying the blast furnace process itself so as to make it accomplish what the direct processes aim at, by giving its product less carbon and silicon than pig iron as now made contains, is the removal of the sulphur. The processes for converting cast iron into steel can now remove phosphorus easily, but the removal of sulphur in them is so difficult that it has to be accomplished for the most part in the blast-furnace itself. As desulphurizing seems to need the direct and energetic action of carbon on the molten iron itself, and as molten iron absorbs carbon most greedily, it is hard to see how the blast-furnace is to desulphurize without carburizing almost to saturation, i.e. without making cast iron.

77. Direct Metal and the Mixer.-Until relatively lately the cast iron for the Bessemer and open-hearth processes was nearly always allowed to solidify in pigs, which were next broken up by hand and remelted at great cost. It has long been seen that there would be a great saving if this remelting could be avoided and " direct metal, ” i.e. the molten cast iron direct from the blast furnace, could be treated in the conversion process. The obstacle is that, owing to unavoidable irregularities in the blast-furnace process, the silicon- and sulphur-content of the cast iron vary to a degree and with an abruptness which are inconvenient for any conversion process and intolerable for the Bessemer process. For the acid variety of this process, which does not remove sulphur, this most harmful element must be held below a limit which is always low, though it varies somewhat with the use to which the steel is to be put. Further, the point at which the process should be arrested is recognized by the appearance of the flame which issues from the converter's mouth, and variations in the silicon-content of the cast iron treated alter this appearance, so that the indications of the flame become confusing, and control over the process is lost. Moreover, the quality of the resultant steel depends upon the temperature of the process, and this in turn depends upon the proportion of silicon, the combustion of which is the chief source of the heat developed. Hence the importance of having the silicon-content constant. In the basic Bessemer process, also, unforeseen variations in the silicon content are harmful, because the quantity of lime added should be just that needed to neutralize the resultant silica and the phosphoric acid and no more. Hence the importance of having the silicon-content uniform. This uniformity is now given by the use of the “ mixer ” invented by Captain W. R. jones. This “ mixer ” is a great reservoir into which successive lots of molten cast iron from all the blast-furnaces available are poured, forming a great molten mass of from zoo to 750 tons. This is kept molten by a flame playing above it, and successive lots of the cast iron thus mixed are drawn off, as they are needed, for conversion into steel by the Bessemer or open-hearth process. An excess of silicon or sulphur in the. cast iron from one blast furnace is diluted by thus mixing this iron with that from the other furnaces. Should several furnaces simultaneously make iron too rich in silicon, this may be diluted by pouring into the mixer some low-silicon iron melted for this purpose in a cupola furnace. This device not only makes the cast iron much more uniform, but also removes much of its sulphur by a curious slow reaction. Many metals have the power of dissolving their own oxides and sulphides, but not those of other metals. Thus iron, at least highly carburetter, i.e. cast iron, dissolves its own sulphide freely, but not that of either calcium or manganese. Consequently, when we deoxidize calcium in the iron blast furnace, it greedily absorbs the sulphur which has been dissolved in the iron as iron sulphide, and the sulphide of calcium thus formed separates from the iron. In like manner, if the molten iron in the mixer contains manganese, this metal unites with the sulphur present, and the manganese sulphide, insoluble in the iron, slowly rises to the surface, and as it reaches the air, its sulphur oxidizes to sulphurous acid, which escapes. Further, an important part of the silicon may be removed in the mixer by keeping it very hot and covering the metal with a rather basic slag. This is very useful if the iron is intended for either the basic Bessemer or the basic open-hearth process, for both of which silicon is harmful.

78. Conversion or Purifying Processes for converting Cast Iron into Steel or Wrought Iron.-As the essential difference between cast iron on one hand and wrought iron and steel on the other is that the former contains necessarily much more carbon, usually more silicon, and often more phosphorus that are suitable or indeed permissible in the latter two, the chief work of all these conversion processes is to remove the excess of these several foreign elements by oxidizing them to carbonic oxide CO, silica SiO2, and phosphoric acid P2O5, respectively. Of these the first escapes immediately as a gas, and the others unite with iron oxide, lime, or other strong base present to form a molten silicate or silico-phosphate called “ cinder ” or “ slag, ” which floats on the molten or pasty metal. The ultimate source of the oxygen may be the air, as in the Bessemer process, or rich iron oxide as in the puddling process, or both as in the open-hearth process; but in any case iron oxide is the chief immediate source, as is to be expected, because the oxygen of the air would naturally unite in much greater proportion with some of the great quantity of iron offered to it than with the small quantity of these impurities. The iron oxide thus formed immediately oxidizes these foreign elements, so that the iron is really a carrier of oxygen from air to impurity. The typical reactions are something like the following: Fe3()4+4C=4CO+3Fe; Fe3O4+C=3FeO-l-CO; 2P + 5Fe304 =12FeO + 3FeO, P2O5; Si + 2Fe3O4= 3FeO, SiO2 + 3FeO. Beside. this their chief and easy work of oxidizing carbon, silicon and phosphorus, the conversion processes have the harder task- of removing sulphur, chiefly by converting it into calcium sulphide, CaS, or manganous sulphide, MnS, which rise to the top of the molten metal and there enter the overlying slag, from which the sulphur may escape by oxidizing to the gaseous compound, sulphurous acid, SO2.

79. In the puddling process molten cast iron is converted into wrought iron, i.e. low-carbon slag-bearing iron, by oxidizing its carbon, silicon and phosphorus, by means of iron oxide stirred into it as it lies in a thin shallow layer in the “ hearth ” or fiat basin of a reverberatory furnace (fig. 14), itself lined with iron ore. As the iron oxide is stirred into the molten metal laboriously by the Workman or “puddler” with his hook or “rabble, ” it oxidizes the silicon to silica and the phosphorus to phosphoric acid, and unites with both these products, forming with them a basic iron silicate rich in phosphorus, called “ puddling ” or “tap Cinder.” It oxidizes, the carbon also, which escapes in purple jets of burning carbonic oxide. As the melting point of the metal is gradually raised by the progressive decarburization,

it at length passes above the temperature of the furnace, about