How Does An Electric Arc Furnace Work? Facts You Should Know

Electric arc furnaces have a unique advantage in that they can utilize recycled steel as their primary feedstock and they work using electrodes and molten metal.

In this blog post, we will deal with the working of an electric arc furnace and its components in detail.

What Are Electric Arc Furnaces?

How Does An Electric Arc Furnace Work

Electric arc furnaces are a key component of steelmaking. They use electrical energy to transform scrap or raw materials like iron ore and coal into high-quality steel. 

These furnaces operate by creating an electric current between two large graphite electrodes. The electrical resistance generated causes the scrap metal or other raw material to melt into a liquid form. 

By controlling the distance between the electrodes, the temperature of the molten metal can be regulated.

Types of Electric Arc Furnaces

To understand the different types of electric arc furnaces and their advantages, let us see the points below.

Direct Current Furnaces

Direct current furnaces utilize direct current for melting metal. They have a few advantages over alternating current furnaces, such as lower electrode consumption and higher power efficiency.

Direct current furnaces have features like melting high melting point metals with greater efficiency. 

Also, they have a longer life due to reduced electrode consumption. However, they need special equipment and may not be suitable for all metal melting processes.

It’s important to think about the benefits and drawbacks of both direct and alternating current furnaces before investing in an electric arc furnace. 

Alternating Current Furnaces

Electric arc furnaces are a mainstay of modern metallurgy. They are used for melting and refining metals. 

Alternating Current Furnaces (AC) use alternating current to create an electric arc between the electrodes and the metal.

A table can give us key info on AC furnaces. For example, they operate within the power range of 60 MW to 200 MW and can melt up to 100 tons of steel per batch.

The electrodes can be arranged either vertically or horizontally. The unique feature of AC furnaces is their ability to produce a strong magnetic field. 

This field helps to stir the molten metal and boost the melting process while reducing energy consumption. It also allows for fast alloying with precise chemical composition.

Vacuum Arc Furnaces

The vacuum arc furnace is special. It can produce metals without impurities and of high quality.

The table below shows the components:

Column NameDescription
Furnace MaterialTantalum, ceramics, or stainless steel
Vacuum Level<1×10-2 m bar for high-quality alloying
Power SupplyDirect current (DC)
Anode ConfigurationCylindrical or planar, consisting of pure materials.

Electric Arc Furnace Construction and Components

To understand the construction and components of electric arc furnaces, we’ll explore some key elements used by steel producers like you. 

Furnace Shell

The outer layer of an electric arc furnace is the Furnace Shell. It provides insulation, protects the environment and stops heat from escaping. 

It’s made of thick, heavy steel plates or cast iron. The shell’s thickness is 8-12 inches, depending on size and capacity. 

It’s lined with refractory materials, like magnesite, dolomite and chromite, to handle extreme temperatures and chemicals.

Thermal expansion due to heat needs to be accounted for when designing the shell. It has to stay strong, even when hot. Constructing a furnace requires 500 tons of steel and other materials.


Transformers have a long history, starting in the 1880s with Nikola Tesla’s discovery of alternating current (AC). 

They have since been used in electric arc furnaces to convert high voltages to lower ones suitable for use. 

Different kinds of transformers are available, such as distribution, power, and rectifier transformers.

Their unique design elements include:

Primary windingReceives high voltage electricity from the power source.
Secondary windingConverts the incoming high voltage to low voltage suitable for use in the furnace.
Cooling systemCools down the transformer during operation preventing overheating.
Tap changerAdjusts the transformer’s output voltage according to existing conditions in the furnace.
Core laminationsMade of steel sheets; provides a magnetic path for energy transfer within the transformer.
Insulating materialsFills gaps between laminations and coils; prevents electrical short circuits.

Electrode Support and Basket

An electric arc furnace needs electrode support and a basket for melting. These components not only hold the electrodes in place but also keep them stable. 

The basket has refractory bricks to insulate it from heat and prevent corrosion. The water-cooled cables stop the electrodes from overheating.

There are several types of baskets: 

  • Carbon
  • FRP
  • Graphite
  • Copper-coated steel

Each has its own unique properties for specific applications.

The table below explains their functions better:

Electrode SupportHolds electrodes
Basket FrameworkSupports electrode on plate
Water-Cooled CablesConducts current to electrodes

Graphite Electrodes

It’s imperative to remember that graphite electrodes’ quality, size, and shape have a huge effect on furnace performance and steel quality

Furthermore, correct handling, storage, and installation can prolong their life and decrease operational costs.

Don’t risk your furnace efficiency by using inadequate graphite electrodes or careless handling practices. 

Disregarding these aspects can cause costly damages, production delays, and safety issues.

Roof and Slag Door

Transform your scrap heap into an electrifying party with an electric arc furnace! This furnace contains various components that are essential for optimal functionality. 

The roof is a movable structure found on top that protects the contents, and the slag door is at the base, used to remove impurities.

The roof has different shapes, like flat or conical, and some doors may be manual or automatic. 

Roofs may have water-cooled copper plates or refractory brickwork, and slag doors may contain fireclay tiles

Unique details can add more layers of understanding – like hydraulic cylinders to make roofs flexible, and cooling options in slag doors for improved impurity removal.

Electrodes and Scrap Materials

Electrodes are essential for conducting electricity from the power source to heat up and melt scrap materials. 

These raw materials range from iron to stainless steel and have varying compositions. They undergo recycling processes to manufacture new products.

It’s important to note how electrode design affects furnace efficiency. The diameter and length of electrodes influence consumption rates, power usage, melting time, and cost efficiency. 

Selecting suitable scrap materials is also critical. Factors like physical characteristics and economic value must be considered.

Electric arc furnaces use lightning bolts, just like a superhero’s power source, to transform scrap metal into something of value.

Working of Electric Arc Furnace

To understand the working of an electric arc furnace with a melting process as a solution, let’s explore the basic processes and components of the furnace. 

The electric arc furnace uses oxygen and fuel burners to melt scrap metal materials in a container. 

Melting Process

Electric arc furnaces are used to melt scrap metal and produce molten steel. This is then poured into molds for various products. The furnace operates at very high temperatures, from 1,600°C to 1,800°C

An electric current passes through graphite or carbon electrodes, creating an arc between the electrodes and metal charge.

To better understand the melting process, let’s take a look at the table:

Furnace shellSteelEncloses and protects charging materials
RoofRefractory materialProtects against heat, noise and dust derive
Water-cooled panelsCopperCools down transformer
ElectrodesGraphite or carbonConduct electricity
TransformerMajor equipmentsReduces voltage

The Role of Oxygen and Fuel Burners

Electric Arc Furnaces (EAFs) are widely used in steel production. Oxygen and fuel burners are pivotal for this process. 

Oxygen reacts with impurities, reducing the carbon and silicon levels. This reaction also produces heat, bringing the furnace temperature to the melting point.

It’s important to regulate the flow of oxygen for efficient impurity reduction. On the other hand, fuel burners generate heat that keeps the furnace hot. 

The perfect combination of oxygen and fuel helps in the optimal steel production process.

Apart from managing oxygen flow, preserving burner performance is essential for smooth operations. 

Inspecting, calibrating and replacing damaged components regularly can stop unexpected shutdowns and cut maintenance costs.

Tapping the Molten Pool

Melt scrap metal and other electrically conductive materials in an Electric Arc Furnace and behold a molten pool. But how to tap it? Here’s the answer:

  1. Lower a preheated ladle into the furnace.
  2. Tilt the furnace towards the ladle.
  3. Get rid of the slag on top of the molten pool, which has impurities like phosphorus and sulfur.
  4. Pour the metal from the furnace into the preheated ladle until it is full.

Advantages of Using Electric Arc Furnaces

Electric arc furnaces provide numerous benefits. They are popular in the steel industry due to their ability to melt scrap metals quickly and efficiently.

The advantages of using electric arc furnaces include:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Low energy consumption
  • Reduced emissions
  • Flexibility with raw material selection
  • Ability to create specialized alloys

Electric arc furnaces are cost-effective and consume less energy. They are also environmentally friendly with reduced emissions

This flexibility allows for various metals to be melted, making it easier to manufacture specialized alloys.

The use of electric arc furnaces is on the rise, with over 100 million tonnes of steel being produced each year globally

Steel Production and Processing in Electric Arc Furnaces

To understand how electric arc furnaces work for steel production and processing, I’ll share with you the raw materials used in the furnace, including steel and iron scrap. Heavy melts and ferrous slag will also be discussed. 

Raw Materials Used in the Furnace

Raw materials used in the furnace are essential for producing steel in electric arc furnaces. They vary depending on the quality, type of furnace and end product.

A table can help understand the raw materials and their quantities. See the list below:

Raw materialSourcePercentage (%)
ScrapIndustrial scrap95 to 100
Pig ironIron ore0 to 5
FluxesLime, dolomite, etc.0.5 to 2
OxygenAtmospheric air

Steel Scrap and Iron Scrap

Steel production relies heavily on the presence of iron and steel scrap. 

In Electric Arc Furnaces, these scraps are processed to make high-quality steel. The quality of the end product is influenced by the input material.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of scrap used:

Type of ScrapDescription
Steel ScrapThe most common recycled material, by weight.
Cast Iron ScrapMainly from old automotive parts and engine blocks.
Manganese Steel ScrapCharacterized by its strong properties such as wear resistance and ductility.

Heavy Melts and Ferrous Slag

Heavy Melts and Ferrous Slag have different compositions and uses. Heavy Melts are made of scrap steel, iron, and other metals. They are used for producing new steel items such as rebar or structural beams.

Ladle Furnace and Basic Oxygen Furnace

Ladle Furnace and Basic Oxygen Furnace are compared in the table below:

Ladle FurnaceBasic Oxygen Furnace
TypeSecondary refining processPrimary refining process
PurposeRefining and heatingMass production of steel
CapacityLow capacity, up to 200 tonsHigh capacity, over 300 tons
Raw MaterialsScrap metal, molten ironMolten iron, scrap metal
Energy SourceElectricityElectricity and oxygen injection
Production TimeShortLong

Chemical Composition and Properties of The Steel Produced Of Electric Furnace

To understand the chemical composition and properties of the steel produced with electric arc furnaces.

Phosphorus and Phosphorus Slag

Specifically, phosphorus, an essential element, must be carefully handled to avoid slag formation and its detrimental effects on the steel’s quality.

The table below shows how phosphorus levels affect the steel’s properties:

Phosphorus ContentSteel Quality
0.03 – 0.08%Good

Other Chemical Composition and Heavy Metals

Let’s take a look at the following elements and their composition percentages:

ElementComposition Percentage
Carbon (C)0.02% – 2%
Silicon (Si)0.5% – 3%
Manganese (Mn)up to 1%
Nickel (Ni)0.5% – 3%
Chromium (Cr)10% -12%

In addition, steel includes minor amounts of lead, chromium, copper, and tin. It’s worth noting that steel may contain poisonous heavy metal ions like arsenic and cadmium.

Recycling scrap metal is popular in some countries to produce new steel products. 

For example, 

Japan has recycled over six billion tons of scrap metal in ten years. This highlights the importance of using an eco-friendly way to make versatile materials like steel. Electric arc furnaces are also used to help preserve the environment.

Energy Consumption in Electric Arc Furnaces

To understand how to reduce energy consumption in electric arc furnaces when using the EAF process with various materials and chemistry.

Fuel Consumption and Efficiency

Optimizing the efficiency of electric arc furnaces is essential. By measuring fuel consumption and efficiency, manufacturers can reduce costs whilst keeping production high.

Fuel consumption rates differ based on furnace size, equipment type and power input range

Low conversion losses and high transformer efficiency should be sought after in energy supply systems. 

Steelmakers can save money and help the environment if they use energy-efficient equipment.

Investing in modern tech updates to replace old equipment with more advanced models increased production rates, leading to cost savings and better output quality.

Fuel Consumption and Efficiency:

ParameterMeasurement UnitValue
Fuel Consumption RatekWh/Tonne of Steel400-700
Average Power Input RangekWh/Tonne of Steel550-600
Average Tap-to-Tap Time RangeMinutes per Heat60-90

Air Gap, Voltage Drop, and Power Used

Air gaps, voltage drops, and power usage are critical for electric arc furnace efficiency. An air gap is the distance between two conductive surfaces. 

Voltage drop is a decrease in voltage when current flows. Power usage is the energy used during furnace operations.

Let’s look at the impact of these factors on energy consumption in a table:

FactorsDescriptionImpact on Energy Consumption
Air GapIncreased distance between electrodes reduces heat transfer to scrap.Higher energy required for melting.
Voltage DropHigh resistance in a circuit leads to lower voltage in an electrical system.Increases electrical losses and decreases efficiency.
Power UsageThe amount of electricity consumed during furnace operations is impacted by the electrode diameter, power input levels, and workpiece materials.Directly proportional.

Environmental Impact of Electric Arc Furnaces

To understand the environmental impact of electric arc furnaces in steelmaking with a focus on the waste heat boiler slag and fly ash, as well as water and air pollution control measures. 

Waste Heat Boiler Slag and Fly Ash

Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) operations create byproducts known as Waste Heat Boiler Slag and Fly Ash

  • Slag forms when exhaust gasses cool from the Waste Heat Recovery Boilers. 
  • Fly ash is a residue from burning pulverized coal and is made up of small, oxide-rich particles.
  • EAF operators must dispose of these wastes responsibly, such as landfilling, recycling, or repurposing as construction materials. 
  • Steel companies must reduce their environmental impact while still meeting consumer demand. 
  • Solutions include investing in gas cleaning systems and other advanced technologies. 
  • This reduces operational costs, strengthens market positions, and allows workers to be safe with minimal ecological damage.

Cleaning up the pollution from an EAF is tough: it’s like trying to wash a dish with a fork.

Water and Air Pollution Control

Electric arc furnaces are key for steel production. But, they generate air and water pollution. Companies must take action to reduce the pollution. This includes recycling water and using gas-cleaning methods.

Plus, newer technologies like electric arc furnace dust (EAFD) recycling can help. EAFD is a hazardous waste with metals inside

It can be processed to get out valuable metals like zinc, lead, and iron. 

Nucor Corporation is an example of success. They invested in U.S. Steel Dynamics’s Mist Suppression System. This uses mist spray to capture bad particles while reducing emissions.

Nucor reduced their environmental impact and created economic benefits. It shows that sustainability helps the environment and businesses.

Role of Electric Arc Furnaces in Modern Steel Production

EAFs are also more eco-friendly than blast furnace processes, emitting fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

The versatility of EAFs is remarkable. They can melt any type of scrap metal, from ferrous and non-ferrous metals to refractory metals like titanium or zirconium, and even some heavy metals. 

This makes them suitable for producing everything from crude iron to var steels and long products.

An interesting feature of the EAF process is that it produces slag that can be used as a component in cement or combined with phosphate rock to form elemental phosphorus or phosphorus slag.

To enhance productivity while reducing energy consumption, newer technologies like vacuum arc remelting or oxygen injection can be invested in. 

Vacuum arc remelt offers a cleaner environment with fewer graphite spikes and higher chemical compositions. 

Oxygen injections reduce fuel burners’ use by increasing power density levels in the molten pool during tap-out times.


Electric arc furnaces (EAFs) are essential for steel production. They transform scrap into high-quality steel products, using large amounts of energy to melt metal and remove impurities.