Sustainability in steel production

Steel production is one of the most energy-consuming industries in the world. The process requires a huge amount of energy. The energy can be extracted from either fossil fuels such as coke while using blast furnaces, or electricity in case of electric arc furnaces.

Facts And Figures

Even though, the steel production has been optimised and compared to 50 years ago it requires 61% less energy it is still on top of the list when it comes to energy consumption in the world. In addition to that, 70% of the steel produced in 2011 has been produced in blast furnaces which means that during the production the by-product in the form of CO2 has been released in large quantities.

According to The World Counts, the amount of steel produced every year would be enough to build 1,800 Eiffel Towers. Those numbers can overwhelm, yet steel is needed in almost every industry in the world. Starting from the most obvious ones such as automotive, construction, transport or aviation and finishing with less obvious such as surgical instruments or implants, windmills that give us green energy or domestic appliances (yes, in your fridge as well!).

Not as bad as you might think

Yes, to produce steel there is a huge amount of energy needed but how recyclable is it?

Steel is the most recycled material on Earth! Steel is used, hardly ever consumed. Steel can be very easily re-smelted and recycled. Moreover, it can also be magnetically separated. The overall recycling rate in 2014 was 86%. Comparing that with 41,9% recycle rate of plastic according to Eurostat, or even quite high 65% recycle rate of paper, the steel industry is doing an outstanding job in implementing circular economy. So, yes producing steel is an energy-consuming process but it is also a highly recyclable material.

Modern solutions to the high CO2 emissions

The problem of high CO2 emissions has been recognised. There are several ways out for the steel producers to lower them.

  1. Using the Electic Arc Furnace which brings down CO2 emissions significantly thanks to the use of electricity rather than fossil fuels. The disadvantage of that method is that is most commonly used with scrap rather than iron ore. Most of the steel products stay in use for decades. That means there is not enough scrap in the world to satisfy the needs using only Electric Arc Furnace.
  2. Environmental Management Systems (EMS) – an EMS helps companies to organise and monitor environmental performance. According to the Worldsteel’s sustainability statistics approx. 89% of all steel industry employees have been working with EMS system registration in 2010.
  3. Switching from using coke in blast furnaces to using hydrogen. This technology is available but it makes steel much more expensive and uncompetitive to the one produced with the use of coke. More on that topic you can find in another article of ours here.

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