The expansion of a solar-powered steel mill is underway in Pueblo

Shanna Lewis/KRCC
A new facility to produce long rails is under construction at the EVRAZ steel mill in Pueblo. (January 27, 2022)

U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper recently toured the construction site for a new state-of-the-art steel mill in Pueblo.

When operating at full capacity, the facility, owned by the multi-national company EVRAZ, is expected to process more than a billion pounds of steel each year into tens of millions of feet of rail for replacing and building train tracks around North America.

Construction of the new long rail mill is about 15 percent done according to EVRAZ management. It’ll use power generated by 750,000 nearby solar panels

Hickenlooper said the project puts Pueblo at the forefront of innovation.

“This is going to be the model to demonstrate that we can make a heavy industrial product like steel rail and do it without causing climate change,” he said.

The solar array will power more than 90 percent of the mill.

Project engineering manager Robert Cook said the primary building at the new site will cover more than 15 acres.

Shanna Lewis/KRCC
U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper visits the construction site for the new long rail steel mill at EVRAZ in Pueblo. January 27, 2022.

“The main facility will produce rails up to 100 meters long and we will weld those into quarter-mile long sticks,” he said.

An electric arc furnace, which produces less carbon than a traditional blast furnace, melts scrap steel so it can be formed into a rough shape. It will then go through more steps including reheating, rolling and finishing, according to Cook. Much of the process will be automated and monitored by workers.

“We will take a bar out of the furnace every two and a half minutes and it’s about five hours of processing time from the reheat furnace to a finished product,” he said.

Pueblo has a long history of steelmaking beginning in the late 1800s when the mill produced rails to build the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. That mill became the headquarters of Colorado Fuel and Iron which is now owned by EVRAZ. The existing complex stretches across thousands of acres and has a number of facilities that recycle scrap metal to make pipe, wire, rebar, rod and shorter rails.

Cook said they currently have more than 400 people working on the construction of the expansion. They expect to double that number later this year when the equipment needs to be installed, although, like many employers, they’ve experienced challenges filling positions currently open.

The first long rails are expected to roll off the line next year.