PCI is the short form of Pulverized Coal injection. Declining supply of quality coking coal and escalating prices of coke have led iron and steel manufacturers to seek other carbon-based products to reduce the consumption of the more expensive coke.
One solution is the technology of injecting pulverized coal into a blast furnace as an auxiliary fuel to reduce the amount of coke consumed and therefore to reduce operating costs in the production of pig iron and then ultimately crude steel. The technology involves injecting very fine particles of coal at high rates into the chamber of the blast furnace as a fuel. Most modern furnaces are equipped with a coal grinding and coal injection system.
In the West, early adopters of the PCI technology used higher volatile, softer sub-bituminous coals. In China, it was the opposite. Early Chinese adopters began with very low volatile, hard anthracite. The scorecard was to find the highest possible level of coke replacement. The major incentive is cost savings. A coal grinding and injection system requires much less capital cost compared to a coke oven installation.
There is also significant fuel cost savings. Nowadays, coal favored for use in PCI applications is gradually shifting from the two ends of the volatile spectrum to the middle. The type of coal most favored for PCI is the semi-anthracite with low ash and low sulfur for its high calorific values, high carbon content, and low volatiles. In the Chinese coal classification system, Pinmei PM fits those criteria.
The replacement ratio of low volatile PCI coal to coke varies according to the requirements of each blast furnace, however replacement ratios are continuing to improve in favour of low volatile PCI coal. Typically, 1.0 tonne of low volatile PCI coal can replace 1.5 tonnes of more expensive coking coal.
Low volatile PCI coal is increasingly sought by steel mills in preference to high volatile coal that has traditionally been used as PCI coal. Low volatile PCI coal provides superior performance in the blast furnace due to its higher carbon and energy content.
The worldwide shortage of coke and its relatively high price further enhance the appeal of low volatile PCI coal.