Sustainable steel production

Evolving policies and regulation on environmental protection at national, European and global level have significant potential impacts on the steel industry and its future. These include initiatives in areas such as pollution prevention, air-quality standards, efficient resource utilisation, and new product and waste legislation, among others. As the solutions for many of these challenges are technological, ESTEP and its members are very active in this field.

The recyclability of steel is an important aspect of sustainability. The recycling process is an essential and integral part of steel production, which is why over 475 million tonnes of steel scrap is recovered globally on an annual basis for recycling into new steel products. This makes steel the most recycled material in the world, at more than the combined reported totals for other recyclable materials, including paper, plastic, glass, copper, lead, and aluminium.

ESTEP takes Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) as a key approach to issues of sustainability. This goes well beyond simply meeting the demands of environmental regulations. LCT considers all aspects of the production, use and disposal of steel, including issues such as resources preservation, the eco-design of processes, working with other industries in 'industrial ecologies', and the social aspects and impacts of the industry.

Cleaner steel

Technological innovation in blast-furnace operation has meant that energy consumption and CO 2 emissions from steelmaking have fallen by 50 % and 60 % respectively over the past 40 years. However, the best European steel plants are now operating at the limits of what is technically possible; they are up against the laws of physics. With conventional routes to produce hot metal from iron ore, the margin for further improvements in smelting technologies is estimated at 10 % to 15 %, but beyond this, energy and emissions savings must be sought elsewhere. This is the purpose of the ULCOS project.

Introducing ULCOS

Ultra-low carbon dioxide steelmaking' (ULCOS) is a consortium of 48 European companies and organisations that have launched a co-operative R&D initiative to drastically reduce emissions from steel making. Most of the consortium partners are ESTEP members and include all major steel manufacturers, as well as engineering companies and research institutes, among others. The European Commission is also a partner. ULCOS' vision is to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of today's best steel-making routes by at least 50 %.

Between 2004 and 2010, the ULCOS consortium selected and implemented pilot projects on four new and breakthrough technologies that offer potentially large energy and emission savings. At an ESTEP meeting in 2010 it was decided to launch ULCOS II – the second phase involving building demonstrators at commercial steel plants. These demonstrators are now underway to test these technologies under industrial conditions with results expected by 2015.

For more information see the ULCOS page

Using resources more efficiently

ESTEP is working closely with the Water Technology Platform on its ‘Sustainable water management for industry' initiative. A joint workshop held in 2011 identified topics for research in the field of sustainable water use in the steel industry. At present, a joint expert group is considering new ideas for R&D projects within a European Innovation Partnership under Europe 2020. Of potential interest is co-operation in the areas of water treatment and materials recovery from waste sludges, better water-cooling technology, and studies on the industrial, ecological and water value chain.

See the WssTP website

For more information on Working Group 4-Planet: see the latest Activity report .

Last updated on: 2012-06-27