Can steel evolve to be truly sustainable?
UK legislation calls for carbon emissions to be cut by 2050 to 80-95% of 1990 levels and increasing our use of recycled materials has a big role to play. WMG is involved in a collaborative R&D project with other partners looking at sources of scrap steel and matching the quality of the materials and the distribution with potential uses.
Steel has always been widely recycled; for every tonne of new steel produced, just over one third uses recycled materials. But with 80% of the UK’s steel being recycled abroad, we need to do more in the UK to reduce our reliance on new steel produced from virgin raw materials and maintain a UK based steel industry.
What’s driving the need to reduce emissions?
Historically, the key driver for recycling steel was the high price of raw materials, but more recently climate change and the need to reduce CO2 emissions have become the primary factors. New steel, made from iron ore and coking coal in a traditional blast furnace, produces high levels of carbon emissions. For every tonne of new steel made, around 1.8 tonnes of CO2 is released. Without more recycling, the UK steel industry can’t meet its 2020 emission targets. It needs to innovate to change its processes and achieve these goals.
How can we recycle more good quality scrap steel?
One of the challenges in recycling steel is contaminants in recovered materials. When a car is recycled; the seats are removed, the fluids drained, but some of the wires that run through the whole car remain, so the scrap contains non-steel elements that can build up each time the steel is used and recycled.
For steel to survive, it must evolve, something it has been doing for decades. With environmental drivers aligning with potential cost savings, the conditions for achieving a circular economy in the UK are set. And with projections indicating a higher availability of recycled steel in the 2020s, the motivation for a scrap-based manufacturing infrastructure has never been more promising.