Everybody talks about sustainability, but what does it mean? How does it relate to iron and steel production? And what is voestalpine’s stand on this topic? What are the perspectives for production, as well as for our products?
For reasons of pure chemistry, the production of steel from iron ore is inescapably energy-intensive, and therefore emissions intensive–at least with today’s conventional technologies. The steel industry is responsible for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Over 70% of global crude steel is produced using the so-called BF/BOF process, i.e., pig iron produced in coal-fired blast furnaces, and crude steel in oxygen converters.
The EU has probably the world’s strictest regulations on air emissions, energy efficiency specifications, material cycles, and the recycling or use of particular substances, for example in alloys. Although with a focus on climate protection, increasingly a holistic view is being taken of materials and products, i.e., starting from production and utilization, through to recycling.
A company’s ecological, social, and economic “sustainability” has already become a very specific criterion for customers, capital markets, and other stakeholders. The key terms here include “sustainable finance”, “product sustainability”, and “life-cycle assessment”. Energy-intensive sectors such as the steel industry are subject to particularly close scrutiny.
Steel is a material which is never “consumed”. At the end of its product life cycle, in a vehicle, for example, it is returned to the production cycle in the form of scrap. voestalpine uses more than 25% scrap in its steel production–significantly more than the European average (19%), and more than twice as much as China (10%).
The World Steel Association (worldsteel) has calculated that more than 25 billion tons of steel have been reused since 1900. This has helped leave 35 billion tons of iron ore in the ground (a quantity that equates to the volume of ore mined in Brazil over a period of 80 years). Moreover, the recycling of steel has made it possible to not use 18 billion tons of coal for reducing the ore. Globally, around 630 million tons of steel scrap is recycled each year.
What form does production take, and what is produced?
With the help of research and development, technologies and production facilities are continually optimized with respect to resource conservation, environmental compatibility, and efficiency. The EU steel industry as a whole, and voestalpine in particular, have signed up to the so-called Paris Climate Goals which specify a reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 80% by 2050. However, this can only be achieved via a series of intermediate steps, involving the development of new technologies based on renewable energy, such as “green” hydrogen. voestalpine is undertaking significant research and development activities in this field.
In addition to the question of how steel will be produced in the long term, consideration must also be made of the contribution that steel makes to sustainability. According to a study by the Steel Association, together with the Boston Consulting Group, for the EU28, using high-tech steel in applications such as lightweight automotive construction, more efficient electric motors, and power plant turbines, and in renewable energies such as wind power, saves six times as much energy–and with it CO2–as emitted during its production. Steel is thus an essential element in a “sustainable” world.
In future blog posts we will report upon the form that tomorrow’s “green” steel production could take, the strategies that voestalpine is following, and the extent to which our steel technologies and products for our customers are sustainable.