DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. expects to return to full production this week after the fatal explosion at its historic Rouge complex.
But Rouge Industries Inc., whose steelmaking operations on the site were crippled by the accident, may face environmental obstacles to restarting its blast furnaces.
Rouge Steel Corp., a subsidiary of Rouge Industries, supplies Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler AG.
Those automakers could soon begin receiving rolled steel from Rouge Steel finishing facilities. But the resumption of steelmaking operations faces many obstacles.
Analysts say it could take two months or longer to resume full production.
One of the stumbling blocks is how to meet air quality standards when the blast furnaces begin giving off large amounts of carbon monoxide gas. Up to 80 percent of those gases were burned by the 70-foot-high Rouge powerhouse, which was ripped apart in the Feb. 1 explosion at Ford's 1,100-acre complex.
Ford sold the steelmaking operations on the site to Rouge Industries a decade ago.
For Ford, the explosion interrupted supplies of components to 16 assembly plants. Some produce such key models as F-series pickups and full-sized sport-utilities.
Last week, Dearborn Assembly was forced to shut down production of the Ford Mustang. Meanwhile, Ford's Wixom, Mich., assembly plant curtailed production of the Lincoln Town Car and Continental.
Wixom's production cutbacks allowed the Rouge stamping plant to produce key components for Ford's other plants, and Ford used its parts inventory to feed its truck plants. Ford expects Dearborn Assembly and its other plants to return to full production today, Feb. 8, said Art Janes, Ford Rouge complex site manager.
The 200 megawatts of electricity the Rouge complex requires were expected to have been restored late Sunday by Detroit Edison.
Ford spokesman Ron Iori said the company is working with Rouge Steel, one of its seven steel suppliers, to assess the current status. 'We're talking with other steel suppliers to see if they can help us out,' he said.
Merrill Lynch analyst Robert Schenosky said Rouge Industries is attempting to resume partial operations as soon as possible. The company expects insurance to cover its losses, he said.
The explosion at the powerhouse of the Rouge complex stemmed from a buildup of natural gas ignited in a giant boiler. The blast injured 30 workers, killing one.
The explosion also caused the loss of electricity, steam and other utilities to all operating facilities forcing the temporary shutdown of steel production and other operations at the Rouge complex.
A partial restoration of utilities has been accomplished through new power lines and temporary generators and boilers.
Rouge Steel faces environmental issues before it can resume full steel production because it can no longer vent noxious gases into the Rouge powerhouse.
'Carbon monoxide is an issue,' said Kay Bedenis, director of engineering with the Wayne County Department of Environment. 'We won't allow the company to do anything to violate the rules.'
As much as 80 percent of the carbon monoxide generated during steelmaking was consumed by the powerhouse. The gas is a low-grade fuel that complemented the natural gas used to generate electricity and steam for the complex.
Air quality regulations may prohibit venting the gas directly into the atmosphere, Bedenis said. She said Rouge Steel could bring in portable boilers to burn the excess gas.
Rouge Steel's finishing operations, which process steel slabs into cold and hot rolled steel, were expected to begin last weekend. Merrill Lynch's Schenosky said Rouge Steel has purchased 300,000 tons of slabs and bands to replace lost blast furnace production.