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London — Austrian steel group Voestalpine said its US hot briquetted iron (HBI) plant expanded sales to Asia in the second quarter, allowing the 2 million mt/year plant to operate at a higher capacity than otherwise.

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Voestalpine said in an Aug. 5 quarterly report that it found new HBI buyers in Fareast Asia, after steel production cutbacks in both North America and Europe led to declining demand from existing HBI customers over April-June.

Voestalpine sells HBI in the US and Mexico mainly to operators of electric arc furnaces for blending with ferrous scrap, and supplies the iron product to Europe, at its blast furnaces in Austria.

"The direct reduction plant in Texas, USA, succeeded in offsetting weak North American and European demand by acquiring new Asian customers and maintained production levels without enacting noticeable volume cutbacks," Voestalpine said in the report.

The HBI plant in Corpus Christi, Texas, operated with "fairly solid capacity utilization" over the quarter, it said.

The plant relies on iron ore pellets supplied from Brazil, Canada, Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States and has a dedicated berth at the plant.

High steel and scrap prices in China's domestic markets compared with weaker trends in the Atlantic pulled in pig iron and metallics such as HBI, and steel from global markets.

Lower industrial production and sharp GDP contractions following coronavirus-related lockdowns led steel and semi-finished products to be exported to China.

China is the main clearing market for steel raw materials and accounts for over half of global steel consumption.

China reported record steel and pig iron output in the first half of 2020, in contrast to weaker steel production and demand in many other markets such as the US, Europe and Japan.