Techs' Dr. Jim Hwang has been featured in international media:
about microwave steelmaking have also appeared at the San
Jose Mercury News and on radio networks.
Hwang (l) and Xiaodi Huang (r)
Hwang (l) and Xiaodi Huang (r) with part of the microwave
steel making equipment.
for microwave steel
steel being made at IMP, Michigan Tech with Xiaodi Huang,
Senior Research Scientist at IMP with Tom Borton, of the TBA
Inc., consultants, who was in Houghton to make a videotape
for "Michigan's Industries of the Future" program.
many samples of Microwave Steel made at IMP
Photos by E.H. Groth
Marcia Goodrich, Michigan Tech News originally published
When Michigan Technological University's Jiann-Yang (Jim)
Hwang (pronounced "wong") wanted to try out a new
idea for making steel, the first place he went was Wal-Mart.
Hwang, an associate professor of materials science
and engineering and director of MTU's Institute of Materials
Processing, picked up six microwave ovens at the local discount
store and brought them back to his lab. With IMP's research
scientist Xiaodi Huang, they took them apart, wired the magnetrons
together into one super-heavy-duty microwave, and added an electric
arc furnace. Then he zapped a mixture of iron oxide and coal.
When he was done, he had a nugget of pure
As gee-whiz as it is, Jim Hwang's and Xiaodi
Huang's innovation is not just a high-end parlor trick.
The microwave energy reduces the iron oxide to iron, and
the electric arc furnace smelts the iron into steel, all
in one device. The process may have the potential to revolutionize
America's troubled steel industry, plagued as it is by high
costs and foreign competition.
The savings would come first in the form
of lower energy costs. Just as a microwave oven use less
electricity than a conventional oven because it heats only
the food, microwave steelmaking uses less energy than a
blast furnace because it heats only the ore and coal.
"With a blast furnace, most of the heat escapes,"
Hwang says. "It's like the stove in your home, where
most of the heat warms your kitchen. It's inefficient. Iron
oxides can be heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius in one minute,
compared to hours for conventional heating." The electric
arc furnace is currently used in state-of-the-art smelting
processes and is more efficient than conventional oxygen
furnaces used in most big plants to convert iron into steel.
In addition, the microwave steelmaking process is simple,
with fewer than half the steps used in conventional steel
manufacturing. And it uses coal, eliminating the need for
Microwave technology's energy savings and
manufacturing efficiency could cut production costs by as
much as 50 percent, Hwang says. Plus, it's friendlier to
the environment, since the process releases half the greenhouse
gases (primarily carbon dioxide) of conventional steelmaking,
and much less of the pollutant sulfur dioxide.
The new technology has the potential to breathe new life
into U.S. heavy industry, particularly in the Great Lakes
region, where the steel and auto industries are centered.
More than 30 steel mills have gone bankrupt
in the last four years even with tariff protection. The
resulting high domestic steel prices have hit American automakers
hard, since they are forced to pay more for steel--the main
ingredient of all cars and trucks--than their foreign competitors.
"A low-cost steelmaking technology would
take advantage of U.S. iron and coal resources and could
help keep manufacturing jobs in Michigan and throughout
the Great Lakes," Hwang said.
Hwang's research was funded by a grant from
the U.S. Department of Energy.
Jim Hwang, 906-487-2600,