Green Steel: How Arkansas Became Home To America's Cleanest And Fastest-Growing Steelmaker

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Inside cavernous blue hangars set on 1,100 acres of what was once soy fields abutting the Mississippi River, a succession of 300-ton scrap-filled buckets—the remains of old cars and refrigerators—await their turn at the furnace. Wailing sirens pierce the deafening rumble, and sparks fly as blindingly yellow flames rise up from the glowing ladle. 

Overlooking the action there’s a control room with a lone operator in front of a dozen LCD monitors displaying graphics representing data from thousands of sensors on nearly every piece of equipment in the 1.76-million-square-foot flat-rolled steel mill. One display uses an optical emission spectrometer to analyze the composition of the molten steel in real time, determining the amount of alloys like copper in the mix. A red display shows that the furnace—no more than 60 feet away—is at 2,951 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Welcome to Osceola, Arkansas (pop. 6,764), onetime home of legendary blues guitarist Albert King and headquarters to Big River Steel, the future of steel production on the planet. The mini mill, which is producing 4,500 tons of hot-rolled steel each day or about 1.65 million per year, began operating only 31 months ago thanks to almost $1 billion in high-yield-debt financing, a slug of equity from Koch Industries, Arkansas’ teachers’ pension fund, private equity firm TPG Capital and the sheer operating zeal of a little-known investment banker named David Stickler.

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