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The European Steel Technology Platform sets its vision to enhance circular economy

A Circular Economy Driven by European Steel: ESTEP sets its vision to reshape industries and lead the EU green transition

Barcelona, 04 October 2023 - A transformative vision centred on circularity, aimed at promoting sustainability and fuelling innovation, serves as the cornerstone for reshaping industries and ensuring the EU Green Deal targets are met for a climate-neutral and resilient future. Steel, which is 100% recyclable and at the core of cleantech value chains, is inherently positioned to play a vital role in driving the circular economy. A cooperative approach involving the steel industry, downstream sectors, research, academia, technology providers, EU policy makers and national authorities, will prove essential to implement the circular transformation, reimagine supply chains, promote eco-design, create lead markets for low-carbon footprint products, and support circular business ecosystems. These are the key highlights of the High-Level Conference opening the European Steel Technology Platform (ESTEP) annual event titled “A circular economy driven by European steel”, taking place in Barcelona from 3 to 5 October 2023.

The conference, bringing together the steel community and beyond, features prominent speakers from the European Commission, leading research institutes, steel companies, innovation-awarded startups, as well as key actors from the steel value chain. In the spotlight are approximately 30 innovative projects covering various areas, including increased recycling content, enhanced resource efficiency, materials recirculation, digital solutions and workforce empowerment. The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to contribute to ensuring the development of a made in Europe, sustainable EU cleantech value chain with steel at its core.

The EU steel industry currently stands as the most significant recycler in Europe, boasting impressive collection rates (88%), substantial tonnages (87,8 million) and high value. Over 57% of EU steel production is made from ferrous scrap. For every tonne of steel produced from scrap, 1.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions are saved, and for stainless steel, this figure rises to 5 tonnes. Presently, the steel sector reduces the EU’s CO2 footprint by 132 million tons every year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 19 million EU citizens. With 60 industrial-scale decarbonisation projects already underway, the steel industry is on the path to carbon neutrality and aims to cut its emissions by at least another 30% - amounting to a reduction of 81.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year - by 2030.

Furthermore, non-steel output materials are almost entirely recycled as ‘by-products’. The major by-product streams are slags, which are used in cement production, road construction, fertilizers and other applications, significantly reducing the carbon footprint in those sectors.

CELSA Group, headquartered in Barcelona and hosting the ESTEP 2023 event, stands out as a clear example of enhanced circularity at EU level. CELSA is among Europe’s leading producers of circular and low-emissions steel and boasts the largest circular supply chain in Europe. CELSA also leads the way in innovation, with projects spanning energy and emissions, circularity, digitalisation and people.

In this context, innovative cross-sectoral collaborations between different actors emerge as the main path forward to reshape supply and value chains, whilst boosting circularity to the benefit of the EU green transition.

Franz Androsch, ESTEP President and Head of R&D and Innovation, voestalpine, says: “ESTEP serves as the preferred platform for enhancing research and technology collaboration throughout the entire steel value chain. The steel industry has always been at the forefront of reuse and recycle. This year’s event marks the fourth significant gathering on sustainable steelmaking, aiming at initiating a crucial discussion within the steel community and beyond to further advance circularity in steelmaking”.

Peter Dröll, Director for Prosperity, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission, says: “As the backbone of the EU economy and our clean technology efforts, the steel industry has the unwavering support of the Commission on its way to circularity. We know what we need to do, and we know we have to do it together”.

Anna Domenech Abella, Head of Innovation, CELSA Group, says: “In the pursuit of a sustainable future, steel stands as the cornerstone of the green transition. It is the thread that aves through our green energy solutions and sustainable mobility dreams. But steel isn't just pivotal; it can also be exemplary. CELSA Circular Steel represents our commitment to fostering circularity, not only within our company but across the entire steel value chain. By embracing this transformation and forging circular collaborations, we can catalyse a broader circular economy that benefits us all”.

Angel López-Buendía, CEO Ceinnmat Innovación, says: “The steel sector has the responsibility to lead the sustainable transformation of the European industry into new paradigms of energy efficiency, reduced CO2 emissions, circularity and resource independence. CEINNMAT is contributing to this goal by developing new eco-efficient technologies for electrical, flexible and decentralised production, incorporating high-temperature microwaves into the production chain”.

Felix González Yague, Director of Strategy, ACCIONA, says: “The construction sector is the industry of the three-thirds: one-third of global emissions, one-third of raw materials, and one-third of generated waste are associated with its activity. Interestingly, one-third of each of these three magnitudes is linked to steel, which, as in many other cases in our society, reflects our past, defines our present, and shapes our future”.