Moving towards more environmentally friendly steel

Tubular steel is used to manufacture material handling and storage equipment, since it is a strong lightweight material and is sustainable. After equipment fabricated from tubular steel comes to the end of its life, the steel can be recycled for reuse.

Though steel is recyclable, its production creates CO2 gases and requires large amounts of energy. Steel producers in Europe are looking at ways to reduce CO2 emissions and use less energy. The goal is to make steel a more environmentally friendly material.

Mining

The main ingredient for steel is iron ore, which is mined. If the total environmental impact of steel production is calculated, the energy efficiency of mining needs to be considered. This starts with assessing how much energy is used in mining, how much is wasted, and how energy can be saved.

For example, large vehicles used in open mines may be run inefficiently. By servicing engines and not keeping engines running when idle, energy can be saved. Vehicle payload management can reduce the number of vehicle journeys. Drivers can learn how to drive in a more fuel-efficient way. New lightweight hybrid diesel trucks use less fuel and recover energy when braking.

Waste heat can be reused, and green energy sources utilised.

Crushing and grinding the iron ore can account for around 40% of the energy used in a mine. Processes have been developed to make the grinding operation more efficient and use less energy.

Steel production

Energy is required to produce steel. This can be generated from alternative green energy sources such as wind and solar power. Waste gases created in the manufacturing process can be used to generate heat and electricity.

In the last 40 years, carbon emissions have been reduced by 50% in European steel plants. Ways to capture carbon are being researched to reduce carbon emissions even further. Alternatives to coal used in the steel-making process are being explored by the European ΣIDERWIN project, which uses an electrolyte process to transform iron oxide to steel plate. This is powered by renewable energies. The project has the goal of CO2-free steel productions. Compared to the traditional way of producing steel, the electrolytic process developed so far reduces CO2 emissions by 87%, and renewable energy reduces the energy needed to produce steel by 31%.

Meeting carbon emission goals

To significantly reduce the carbon footprint of steel production will require a lot of investment. This can be helped by government initiatives to incentivise long-term investment. In Europe, investment will need to be evenly spread amongst steel producers to make it fair for all steelmakers. There is also the danger that carbon-free steel production will be more expensive, and this could make European steelmakers uncompetitive on price.

The Paris Agreement issued carbon emission reduction targets to reduce global warming. If European steelmakers reduce CO2 and steel producers outside of Europe do not, it could result in European steel costing too much. Ideally, all world steel manufacturers need to invest in carbon reduction and energy efficiency processes to make steel a greener product.

Posted by Derek
8th July 2018
Metalworking

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