US Steel's Mon Valley Investment Revives Western Pennsylvania
$1-billion plant upgrade promises reversal of fortune for mill towns
In Western Pennsylvania—the cradle of the aged United States steel industry—steelmaking has a bright future, thanks to a commitment by US Steel Corp. to spend more than $1 billion upgrading facilities at its three-plant Mon Valley Works.
The company recently announced it will invest in the three mills just outside Pittsburgh, in the region’s so-called “Mon Valley,” which is set alongside the Monongahela River. It’s a historic home to steelmaking and an important area for seminal moments in union history, including the Homestead Strike of 1892.
As part of the improvements, $900,000 in upgrades will feature an endless casting and rolling facility that will be installed at the Edgar Thomson Plant, in Braddock, Pa., thereby increasing production at the facility, according to US Steel. Endless casting and rolling technology combines thin slab casting and hot rolled band production, greatly reducing energy consumption. US Steel says the mill will be the first of its type in the U.S. and one of just several such facilities in the world.
The overall plan of the improvements is to transform the Mon Valley Works—comprised of the Clairton Plant, Edgar Thomson Plant, and Irvin Works, which is located in West Mifflin, Pa.—into US Steel’s main source of substrate to be used to make the lighter, high-strength steels that are used in the auto industry.
The Clairton, Pa., plant also will be upgraded, with $150 million earmarked for improvements. Central to that makeover will be the installation of a new co-generation plant at the facility. Coke is used in the production of iron, which is used to make steel. Clairton is the company’s main source of coke production.
Arvedi is performing the preconstruction design for the upgrades.
It is unclear exactly when bids will be solicited for the work. But it should happen within the next six months or so, company officials say.
“Based on the current project plan, we intend to approach local contractors with our inquiries for all Mon Valley bids by mid of-2020,” says Amanda Malkowski, a spokeswoman for US Steel.
The Clairton plant upgrades will feature the co-generation facility, which will convert part of the coke oven’s gas into electricity, by way of the co-generation facility. The electricity that is generated from the co-generation will help to power the Mon Valley Works, including the new endless casting and rolling facility planned for the Edgar Thomson Works.
Hard Hit By Big Steel Collapse
Braddock, which a century ago was bustling with steelworkers, shops, merchants, and newly arrived immigrant laborers and their families, has been hard hit since the collapse of Big Steel in the U.S. in the 1980s. The town’s population plummeted. In recent years, though, a dedicated group of residents—including former Mayor John Fetterman, who is now Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor, have worked to gain more exposure for the town and to make it livelier.
The results are impressive: in addition to a Levi’s commercial and several movies and other ads filmed there, entrepreneurs also have moved into town.
New additions include a micro-brewery and renowned chef Kevin Sousa's Superior Motors, an upscale restaurant situated across from the entrance of the Edgar Thomson Works.
US Steel's planned investment in Braddock exemplifies redevelopment energy in the Mon Valley.
Actor David Conrad, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s Edgewood section, moved several years ago to Braddock, where he bought a property. He’s glad about the news from US Steel. “It’s great that US Steel will invest in the Edgar Thomson Works," Conrad says. "Without the sound of that beast humming, Braddock would be a lesser place.”
The Clairton plant’s upgrades dovetail well into a longer-term solution for ongoing pollution problems at the facility. In recent years, the facility has been at odds with local officials and environmental regulators over its harmful emissions. The upgrades could be seen as a proactive move to help make the facility more environmentally friendly. That’s part of the story that US Steel wants to accentuate.
“Our carbon footprint will be reduced, and regional air quality will improve through significant reductions in particulate matter, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides at our Mon Valley facilities,” the company said in a press release.
US Steel says it expects both plant improvement projects to make Mon Valley Works’ energy consumption more efficient, and to improve compliance with environmental standards. “The new advanced steelmaking technology and state-of-the-art co-generation facility will reduce emissions in comparison to the existing Caster, Hot Strip and Clairton boilers,” the company says.
Based on the current design and engineering data, the plant upgrades will result in a 60% decrease in particulate matter emissions, including a 50% decrease in sulfur dioxide, and an 80% decrease in nitrogen oxides.
Prior Upgrades at Clairton Plant
The upgrades to the Clairton plant follow not long after major upgrades there several years ago.
In 2012, Graycor Industrial Contractors completed a $500-million upgrade to US Steel Corp.’s C Battery in the Clairton Plant. The coke battery comprises 84 ovens, in which Graycor crews laid 2.4 million refractory bricks. They also installed a coke handling system, a 160-ft low-emission quench tower, a waste heat canal and stack, and all new coke battery machinery barged up the Monongahela River.
The small Mon Valley towns—including McKeesport, which has a steel pipe plant owned by US Steel that was reinvigorated in recent years due to the boom in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas—depend upon industry, and in particular, steel and its associated fabrication facilities, for the health of their local economies.
In the case of West Mifflin (population 20,000), the viability of the Irvin Plant there is considered essential, since the plant is lifeblood to the community. West Mifflin Mayor Chris Kelly grew up in nearby Homestead, once home to the largest steel mill in the world. News of US Steel’s big investment is “exciting, because [the investment] helps all the facilities in the Mon Valley Works,” he says. “It’ll reduce US Steel’s costs and increase their staffing. It’ll make the facilities, faster, better, and lead to more growth.”