Blog: How steel enables resource efficiency and innovation

How steel enables resource efficiency and innovation

How steel enables resource efficiency and innovation

Åsa Ekdahl, Head, Environment and Climate Change

11 March 2019

The UN Environment Assembly is gathering from 11 - 15 March 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya for its 4th session (UNEA-4) under the theme “Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production”. 

While attending this meeting, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to report on the many creative initiatives the steel industry is taking to optimise resource efficiency and advance sustainable consumption and production.

In our position paper on co-products, we have already explained the economic and environmental benefits of using as few resources as possible and using them to the full.

In 2017, 96.3% of all steel industry raw materials were converted into useful materials: 63.6% were converted into steel products and 32.7% into co-products. These co-products are used in the industry itself or in other sectors. For example, slag is used to produce cement, process gases are used for heating, etc. Process gases now have the potential to be converted into fuel for aircrafts or other transport means. These are just a few of the many applications of steel industry co-products.

My presentation focused on the steel industry’s efforts towards the goal of 100% resource efficiency, particularly the full use of co-products, and this resulted in a constructive discussion around this the theme of ‘doing more with less’.

An excellent example of creativity in steel production is the HYBRIT initiative, a project which is hoped will eventually lead to a revolution in steelmaking – the reduction of the steel production’s carbon emissions to virtually nil. Several other initiatives aiming at reducing CO2 during steelmaking are being investigated around the world.

But putting aside for a moment the steelmaking process itself, the steel industry contributes significantly to a sustainable world through an array of creative steel applications.

One example is the development of a mobile canning system to tackle food waste. This mobile canning facility developed by Tata Steel could let farmers preserve the food they produce as soon as it is harvested. This could dramatically cut food losses at the source and allow farmers to make extra money by producing ready-for-market canned goods.

Another example is an innovative power and data generation technology built on the durability of steel that is changing the way our urban environments consider pedestrian foot traffic. All you have to do is walk and every step you make can be converted into energy.

As worldwide concerns over the impact of plastic waste on the environment continue to grow, the spotlight has fallen on the sustainability and health effects of bottled water. Stainless steel offers a creative sustainable and healthy alternative to plastic bottles. Another sustainable application of steel is the introduction of reusable stainless steel cups at rock festivals, as was done at Britain’s Glastonbury Festival in order to reduce the event’s carbon footprint.

And finally, I wanted to raise in this blog the crucial role the steel industry is playing in the transition toward renewable energies. Without steel renewable energy would simply not be possible. Examples of large-scale innovations are: a mega large solar power project in China, a tidal energy infrastructure in South Korea, and in the world’s first floating wind farm off the Scottish shores. 

If you want to keep up to date with how steel is playing a vital role in incredible innovation across the globe, visit this site, and share your exciting stories via #SolveDifferent. This is the hashtag the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly is using to showcase innovative solutions.

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