The perfect material for a sustainable, circular economy

Steel is not only a material which is critical to building the infrastructure of our world – being a leading material in the production of cars, buildings, transport infrastructure, household appliances and even the humble paper clip – but it is also one with leading circularity credentials. Therefore, as meeting the objectives of the 2015 Paris agreement requires a permanent, fundamental shift in the way we consume and produce goods, the drive to decarbonise aligns with the drive to transition to a truly circular economy – one that seeks to eliminate waste through the continual re-use of resources.

Therefore, steel has the credentials to be a material which sits at the heart of a sustainable, circular economy:

Some of the technologies steel is a key enabler in decarbonising include wind turbines, efficient transformers and motors and lighter-weight vehicles. A study by Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) and the German Iron and Steel Institute (VDeh) found that the CO2 emissions reductions enabled by steel outweigh emissions from steel production by 6 to 1.

Steel's carbon emissions challenge

Steel is one of the most prolifically used materials in the world, with almost 1.9 billion tonnes produced every year. Although steel emits less carbon than many other materials, the sheer scale of global steel production means the industry accounts for approximately 7% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Considering that global steel demand is forecast to increase to around 2.6 billion tonnes by 2050, the steel industry has an important contribution to make if the world is to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Part of the answer to steel’s decarbonisation challenge is through the increased use of scrap, or recycled steel. Today, around 20% of steel is produced through recycling scrap. While this percentage is forecast to rise to 50% by 2050, the quantity of scrap required for the steel industry to fully convert to scrap-based, secondary steelmaking will not be available until the end of this century. Therefore, the challenge of decarbonising steelmaking involves finding fundamentally new ways of making primary steel and reducing iron ore with alternative reductants to fossil fuels.