October 30, 2014 7:00 AM EDT

Cheap natural gas is giving manufacturer Nucor a shot at reversing the long decline in American steelmaking

On the day after christmas 2013, John Ferriola received a FedEx package containing a dozen metal pellets, each about the size of a blueberry and the color of charcoal. They had been refined with natural gas at a temperature one fifth that of the surface of the sun. To most, the contents of the box would have looked like a heap of rubbish. To Ferriola, CEO of Nucor Corp., the tiny pellets represent a huge bet for the biggest steelmaker left in the U.S.

The technology may also help rekindle American steel manufacturing. Nearly a third of U.S. steelmaking jobs have disappeared over the past 15 years as the industry has boomed in China and other emerging economies. The lone …

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