The future of steel is green: innovation in the global steel industry
The steel industry’s contribution to the global economy is profound and unquestioned. In 2017 alone, as reported by World Steel in association with Oxford Economics, the steel industry sold over USD 2.5 trillion worth of products and created a staggering USD 500 billion worth of net value-add. However, what has been questioned time and again, is the environmental impact the industry holds.
Despite the fact that steel is one of the most recyclable materials in the world, with the capability to last almost forever, several existing methods of steel production have countless negative impacts on the environment. This includes the emission of hazardous gases into the atmosphere, waterbody contamination, production of solid waste or by-products, and more. The present methods of manufacturing steel involves the use of coal almost exclusively to eliminate oxygen from the iron ore. This process of oxygen removal creates enormous amounts of CO2 or carbon dioxide at the end of the process chain. This is one of the major environmental concerns associated with the steel industry and this has forced the industry to research and pour their resources into more sustainable solutions.
Steel Industry’s Commitment To Tackle Environmental Concerns
The Indian steel industry committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement: to cut emissions intensity per unit GDP by 33% to 35%, by 2030, to help reduce the global temperature. In addition, it has also started its transition towards low-carbon growth to abide by the national climate change priorities.
Globally, several other industry giants have invested in research and technology to discover new and greener methods of steel production. This will also create new grades of high-strength and high-quality steel. With time and advancements in technology, the industry will considerably minimize its negative impact on the environment.
Greener Steel Variants: Telling Them Apart
The steel industry is striving to make steel manufacturing an eco-friendly and sustainable process. However, in an industry this big adultery and manipulation of terms are bound to happen. Therefore, it is pivotal that the terms are clearly understood.
Green Steel: The term ‘Green Steel’ may sound eco-friendly but its meaning is interpreted differently. The term is heavily used in the context of marketing as consumers are looking for environmentally conscious products. The term has been in close associations with steel that has been manufactured using world-class technology, steel that has been reused and produced from scrap, and also conventional steel that minimizes the emissions of CO2.
With so many meanings the end consumer can be misled, therefore, it’s important to ask and research which ‘green steel’ is being brought before purchase.
Zero-carbon Steel: In order to be rightfully termed as zero-carbon, the steel produced would need to be produced with absolutely no emission of carbon dioxide. However, the bar is extremely tough to reach and practically unachievable as residual emission can arise at several points of the production. Apart from that, steel must contain some amount of carbon because only then will it be different from its ore.
If the manufacturer manages to balance the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by taking out the emissions from the atmosphere by sinks; the produced steel will then be referred to as carbon-neutral steel or net-zero steel.
Fossil-free Steel: Fossil-free steel is relatively, a new discovery in the steel industry. Instead of coal, it’s made with hydrogen. Fossil-free steel is produced with zero usage of fossil fuels like coal or natural gas, making it, virtually, carbon neutral. While this has been created and recreated successfully, it will require more R&D before the product becomes commonly used and made.
Carbon-free Steel: Low carbon steel or fossil-free steel are two terms that are interchangeable with the word carbon-free steel. Essentially, they refer to the same thing.
Several, global steel manufacturing organisations have successfully, or are in the process, of moving towards a greener steel. At this point in time, the most common way is through cutting toxic emissions by a large percent.
How Sustainable Is Steel?
While steel does contribute, a certain extent, to the global carbon emissions, are there any sustainable aspects to the material? The answer is: absolutely. Steel is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet. Steel scraps, through simple processes can be recovered and reused. Due to this, and the fact that it's one of the safest, cleanest materials used in construction, steel has earned itself several green certification: IGCC, LEED, and more. Steel may not be renewable, but it is recyclable.
Apart from this, there are several other factors that go into the distribution of steel, packaging is one such example. Today, several steel companies offer recyclable or biodegradable packaging for their products. Some organisations also donate sizeable amounts of their profits towards offsetting the carbon footprint caused by the transportation of steel: a very do-able contribution towards the environment.
While the transition towards sustainable practices in the steel industry is a slow one, it’s a trend and necessity that’s definitely on the rise. Global governments, hand-in-hand with steel giants across the world are definitely emerging as pioneers in the sustainable steel industry.
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