REFRACTORIES REVIEW: UNITECR'03 Offers Industry Snapshot

Highlighting he 8th Unified International Technical Conference on Refractories

The 8th Unified International Technical Conference on Refractories (UNITECR), organized by the Technical Association of Refractories, Japan (TARJ), was held October 19-22, 2003, in Osaka, Japan. The meeting was attended by roughly 700 people from 38 countries, including 43 from North America. The meeting's theme was "ECO Refractory for the Earth," and many of the papers included information and comments about pertinent environmental issues. The technical program included 181 papers, which were contained in the Proceedings provided for each registrant, and 44% of the papers dealt with steel industry applications. Other popular topics were basic science, monolithic refractories and raw materials.

Opening Ceremony

Invited speakers from Japan and Germany opened the meeting. H. Nishio, Ph.D., gave an overview of the refractory trends for steelmaking in Japan. He mentioned the effect of economic conditions in Japan and the negative impact of imported refractories from China. He also highlighted some of the industry's main developments and trends, including low thermal expansion MgO-C bricks, low carbon (1-3 wt%) MgO-C bricks, improved blast furnace taphole mixes, and the continued increase in the use of monolithic refractories-e.g., linings zoned with several monolithic (castable) refractories, each selected to best resist the conditions involved.

A. Eschner, Ph.D., discussed the status and effect of environmental issues on the refractory industry in Europe. From 1950 to 2000, the usage of refractories has declined significantly in all industries, with the steel industry showing the biggest decrease (80%). This has resulted in decreased tonnage of refractories available for disposal and recycling. In 1950, 60% of the refractories used ended up in a landfill, while in 2000 that figure was 18%. The steel industry has the highest rate of refractory recycling at 55%, compared with 32% by all other industries.

Refractories Education

Because the decline in refractories education is a concern in most industrialized nations, speakers from North America, Germany, China and Japan were invited to discuss the situation in their region. Of these regions, refractories education is strong only in China, where steel production has increased from 114 to 220 million metric tons (+91%) in the last five years. China is by far the world's leading steel producer. Of the students studying refractories in China, roughly 1000 are undergraduates and 200 are graduate students, reflecting the abundance of jobs.

The other regions are considering many issues and options, such as attracting students from under-developed countries, avoiding technological stagnation, workshops, short courses, intern programs, and whether refractories education should be the task of a university. M. Rigaud, Ph.D., of Canada suggested that a global federation of refractories centers should be established to provide refractories education and other services/activities.

Steel Industry Applications

Fourteen sessions with 79 papers covered the full range of applications, including ironmaking, molten iron transfer, steelmaking, molten steel treatment ladles, and flow control and processing of molten steel. The topics included various brick types, monolithics (castables, taphole mixes, repair/patching materials, etc.) and special shapes (slide gates, nozzles, porous plugs, etc.).

Monolithic Refractories

The continuing improvement and increasing use of monolithic refractories was indicated by the number of papers (42) on the subject. The range of topics was broad, including raw materials, aggregate size/grading, surface coated/treated graphite, binders, primary and secondary spinel, carbon-containing and ZrB2/ZrO2 castables, repair/patching materials, and curing/drying.

Basic Science and Environmental Issues

Basic science (and testing) topics included high-temperature property characterization, a thermodynamic database, sophisticated engineering analysis and modeling, nano-materials (carbon black, fibers, iron oxide, clay), microstructure, and microwave firing. The environmental papers considered topics like the development and use of Cr-free refractories, justification for more refractory recycling, the use of more industrial wastes (sludges, sand, dusts, etc.), and the reduction of refractory waste.


UNITECR'03 provided a good overview of the current status of refractories technology worldwide. Further details about the topics presented and discussed can be found in the 714-page Proceedings, which can be obtained from TARJ ( The 9th UNITECR meeting is scheduled for November 8-11, 2005, in Orlando, Fla. Visit for additional information or to submit abstracts online. C

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