Multiscale study of raceway operations for low-cost and stable ironmaking

Dr Yansong Shen, who joined UNSW School of Chemical Engineering in 2016, applies his knowledge of engineering and computer modeling to boost the competitiveness of industry partners, largely in the energy and resources sectors. We sat down with Dr Shen to learn more about him and his work.

Where were you born?

In China, close to the Russian border.Modelling and design of reacting flows in complex processes/ reactors/ devices, involving multiphase flows and thermochemical behaviours. It covers both fundamental and applied research

Who were your earliest influences?

My parents and my uncle who is a University Professor in China.

Who are your academic / professional mentors?

My PhD supervisor, Professor Yu. He is the reason I came to UNSW, Sydney.  In 2003, he was visiting China and I attended a seminar he gave when I was an undergraduate at Northeastern University. I was impressed. So that's why I pursued my PhD with him and then worked with him for a couple years after that.

What is your research about?

Basically my research area is process modeling and optimization. I gave a name to my research team: PROMO. “Pro” = process; "M" = modeling, "O" = optimization.  It's about mathematical modeling of reactive flow systems with applications to a range of complex processes and reactors especially in resource and energy industries, including process metallurgy, solid fuel preparation/utilization, and renewable energy processes like solar cell, biomass, hydrogen, and batteries.

My research interests range from understanding fundamentals to optimising and developing new, cleaner and more efficient technologies, powered by advanced numerical and experimental approaches. The market opportunity exists for my group because the industry processes we work with are usually very complex, involving massive multiphase flow, heat transfer and mass transfer. And industrial processes have to be optimized to be competitive and sustainable which requires innovative research and development to achieve this goal. Our expertise in process optimization modeling is a practical option for industry because testing inside an industry reactor is very risky and very costly and you can't charge something to test it because it might damage the reactor, which could be catastrophic.

For example, pulverised coal combustion in iron making blast furnaces involves a deep knowledge of metallurgy and engineering as applied to new research techniques. We deliver our computation model to the industry partner and upgrade our model based on their feedback.

How did ARC Linkage projects with Baosteel and Coal Energy Australia come about?

We formed a collaboration with Baosteel and Coal Energy Australia under a $1.1M ARC Linkage Grant in 2015 (the objective being to optimize raceway operations in blast furnaces and to assess the performance of pulverised Australian brown coals in the steel industry).

The background to this is we approached Baosteel when they started operating a research centre in Queensland. We then went to Shanghai to understand their industry needs and subsequently met with them on a number of occasions, explored the collaboration opportunities and were able to form a partnership by highlighting our successful track record with different industries.

In the case of Coal Energy Australia, they approached us because we had the reputation of how to simulate coal combustion in a blast furnace and how to design the coal products.

I think communication is the most important thing, followed by flexibility in terms of all parties being open to a change in direction of a project if deemed necessary

Dr Yansong Shen

So it's a perfect match. Coal Energy Australia is a coal provider and BaoSteel is a coal end user. We are in the middle. We can advise Baosteel how to inject their brown coal and advise Coal Energy Australia how to design their brown coal products.

We also have a project with Coal Energy Australia to develop a step-changing raw material for ironmaking based on improved brown coal upgrading technology. There are two parts to this project. The first one is how to cost effectively upgrade brown coal and make a composite into briquettes for domestic and export markets. To do this, we need to devise a new numerical method regarding how to make a suitable briquette for blast furnace charging materials. As value-added products, briquettes could replace brown coal as exports to China, which provides more than 60 percent of the steel output globally. So it’s a significant opportunity.

Second, once we make it, how can we evaluate if it works well or not in the real blast furnace? We model the experiment because we cannot test our methods in the real blast furnace. A blast furnace is really expensive and you can't just charge something to test it because it might damage the blast furnace and to restart again can cost a billion dollars.

How do you transfer your technology to industry?

Every time we deliver some code to industry, we spend time with the industry partner to demonstrate how to use it, fine tune the model in case they have additional requirements and generally ensure they gain the confidence to use it.

What are the elements of a successful partnership?

I think communication is the most important thing, followed by flexibility in terms of all parties being open to a change in direction of a project if deemed necessary.  Finally, set up commercial arrangements very carefully to ensure the issues around background intellectual property and new intellectual property is well defined and understood.

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