René Kannegiesser pushed his safety goggles back up his nose and wiped the dust off his face with his hand. There were sparks flying behind him as molten steel hissed and popped in the blast furnace of the ThyssenKrupp steelworks in Duisburg, a city in Germany’s western industrial region.
The 23-year-old had just finished sealing off a three meter-deep hole in the blast furnace with porcelain. “The taphole’s sealed again,” Mr. Kannegiesser said, tipping back the thick face shield that protected him from his hellishly hot workplace. In two hours, once the furnace has been refilled with red-hot pig iron, he’ll have to repeat the whole process over again.
The blast furnaces in the Duisburg mill – Europe’s largest – are fired round the clock, producing 33,000 tons of pig iron every day. They’re manned by 13,000 workers, and if Mr. Kannegießer had anything to say about it, that’s how things would stay. But that’s unlikely. The European steel industry is in crisis mode and a number of steelworks across the Continent face the prospect of being shuttered.