HF6 Liege

Belgium

The history of the the steel industry in Liege in general, and that of the Haut Fourneau 6 in particular, started in the early 16th century. At that time the coal industry around Liege was flourishing and several mining companies were established, among others the Fosse de Lyes in Seraing, which in 1623 became Fosse delle Croix al Bache known as Espérance. In 1811 the “Societe Charbonniere de l’Esperance” was founded. At this stage, the Espérance coal mine was one of the most important coal mines around Liege and, with the union of Belgium with Holland in 1815, its importance increased even further. Indeed, as the Netherlands became one of the first maritime super-powers, exporting coal from Liege to other countries such that Great-Britain and France became a much more profitable business. In 1829, a young Belgian law graduate, called Frédéric-Louis Behr bought the majority of shares in the Esperance coal mine and in 1836 he  founded the “Société anonyme des Charbonnages et Hauts Fourneaux de l’Espérance” 

In the 18th century, the Belgian steelworks mainly occupied the valleys of the “Haute Belgique”, due to the proximity of forests, which provided them with charcoal. Following excessive deforestation, there was a shortage of charcoal and the metallurgical factories moved closer to the Liège coal mines which mass-produced the new fuel for their blast furnaces: namely coke. Although, at this time, the “Société anonyme des Charbonnages et Hauts Fourneaux de l’Espérance” was one of the largest coke producers in the country, Frédéric-Louis Behr thought that, in order for his company to survive, he needed to diversify and hence invested in a steelwork. The first blast furnace was constructed in 1838 and a second one followed in 1839. In 1862, Frédéric-Louis Behr further extended his steelworks by acquiring the Société Dothée et Cie, which owned iron rolling and tinplate manufacturing workshops in the Liège district of Longdoz.  Established in 1845 by the Dothée brothers, the “Société Dothée et Cie”, was at this time,  one of the leading tinplate and sheet metal producers in the region. The acquisition of the Société Dothée et Cie” resulted in 1867 in the  “Société des Charbonnages, Hauts Fourneaux et Laminoirs de l’Espérance”. However, shortly afterwards, the company disposed of the coal mining business  and  became the “Societe Metallurgique d’Esperance-Longdoz”. In 1911 two more blast furnaces were constructed and by 1948 the company had  become the largest Belgian producer of sheet metal, reaching a peak production of 142,000 tonnes. In 1970, the company was sold to Cockerill-Ougree-Providence in order to become Cockeerill-Ougree-Providence et Espereance Longdoz, which later became part of Cockerill-Sambre in 1981, Usinor in 1989, Arcelor in 2002 and finally Arcelor Mital in 2006.

When construction of blast furnace 6 began in 1957, the Espérance-Longdoz company was still a big name in the Liège metallurgy industry. At that stage it owned several subsidiaries around the world, various coal mines and five blast furnaces. Of these 5 blast furnaces only the blast furnace 5, constructed by Paul Wurth in 1954, was economically viable and it was therefore decided to build a sixth, more modern blast furnace, a giant for the time. Ignited on April 28, 1959, it produced 1,200 tons of cast iron in 24 hours. Several upgrades later daily production increased to nearly 3600 tons in 1993. In the early 2000s, blast furnace 6 saw its last hours of glory. Forty-six years after its inauguration in 1959, it was stopped in 2005, as part of the strategic plan led by Arcelor to stop the hot phase of the Walloon steel industry, which caused a great stir in the population. It was reignited in 2008 by the ArcelorMittal group, which had just taken over the Liège steel industry, at a time when steel orders were increasing and when more cast iron had to be supplied to the Chertal steelworks. The relighting ceremony, on February 27, 2008, takes place in an atmosphere of popular jubilation, where everyone is proud to display the symbolic gas lighter distributed as a souvenir.

However, the euphoria was short-lived as the global economic crisis spelt the end of HF6. It finally closed its doors in December 2008 and was blown up on December the 16th, 2016. Today, nothing remains of these once proud steelworks apart from the power station.