SITE DE SERAING / HF6
This blast furnace (haut-fourneau 6, HF6) was built in 1957-59 by SA Société Métallurgique d'Espérance-Longdoz, an ancient Belgian coal mining and steelmaking company dating back to 1836. At the time, Espérance-Longdoz was a national key-player in the sector, having its headquarters in Seraing, near Liège. Here, the main production sites were concentrated along the Meuse river: four blast furnaces (HF1-4) and a steel plant on the right bank and a coke plant and rolling mills on the left one, between Jemeppe and Flemalle. The construction of HF6 represented the spearhead of the company's postwar great expansion plan, which foresaw also an oxygen steel mill (1952) as well as a fifth blast furnace (HF5, 1954) at Seraing, hot and cold rolling mills at Jemeppe (1949-55) and a large LD-AC steel mill at Chertal (1963).
At its inauguration on April 26, 1959, the HF6 was amongst the largest and most technically advanced blast furnace in Europe, with a volume of 1680 cubic meters and a capacity of 1800-2000 t/d of pig iron – in comparison, HF5 had a capacity of 900 t/d while older blast furnaces around 300 t/d. Together with its predecessor HF5, HF6 was also amongst the first blast furnaces entirely designed and realized by Paul Wurth engineering company, today a leading blast furnaces constructor worldwide. In 1970 Espérance-Longdoz and its facilities, included HF6, were taken over by the other Liège-based steel enterprise Cockerill-Ougrée-Providence – formed in 1966 by the merger of Cockerill-Ougrée (Seraing) and Forges de la Providence (Charleroi). The resulting group Cockerill-Ougrée-Providence et Espérance-Longdoz (COPEL, shorten Cockerill) was the fifth largest steelmaker in the European Economic Community, with a steel production capacity of 7 millions t. With regards to the Liège basin, Cockerill group inherited 14 blast furnaces from the previous companies, of which many outdated and too small to be run efficiently. In ten years half of these were dismantled. However, the mid 1970s heavy sector crisis and the fragmentation of facilities led the Belgian steel industry to reorganize itself. Cockerill group merged then with the Charleroi-based Hainaut-Sambre, giving birth to Cockerill-Sambre (1981). Within the Liège basin only blast furnaces HF6 (former Espérance-Longdoz) and HFB (former Cockerill-Ougrée) were left in activity. During the ownership of Cockerill-Sambre HF6 was largely renovated and refurbished – the creuset diameter was extended (9 to 9,75 m) and the number of tuyeres increased (20 to 26) – and, as result, its capacity raised up to 3600 t/d (1993). Further improvements occurred after the company's transformation into Arcelor (1999) led the overall capacity to the highest peak of 5500 t/d (1,7 millions of t/d).
Nevertheless, in the first 2000s Arcelor announced its intention to progressively cease any steelmaking activity in the Liège area due to a persistent market crisis. HF6 was then turned off in 2005 but, thanks to a vast social mobilization and unions bargaining, it was not dismantled and thus kept for a possible future restart. One year later Arcelor merged with Mittal Steel, forming the largest steelmaking company worldwide ArcelorMittal. With regards to HF6, the new owner proceeded to a general reconditioning and, in March 2008, the oldest surviving blast furnace in the Liège basin was restarted. However, due to the global economic crisis and the fall of the price of steel the activity lasted for just nine months. In 2015 the dismantling and demolition process has begun.
Willelm, L. (1990), 450 ans d'Espérance. La S.A. Métallurgique d'Espérance-Longdoz de 1519 à 1969, Editions du Perron, Liège.
Frassi, A. (2010), De Fonte et d'Acier au Pays Liégeois, Editions Gérard Klopp, Thionville.
Pierre Machiroux's blog / recent pictures of HF6 in activity