Blog: Making steel in the 2020s

Edwin Basson, Director General, worldsteel

15 January 2020

As we enter not just a new year but a new decade, the steel industry continues to face its traditional challenges - overcapacity, restructuring and trade frictions to name just a few.

2020 will also be by all accounts a year in which market growth will be slow in most regions.

In addition, a number of other pressures will become increasingly significant. What are they and what will worldsteel be doing over the course of the 2020s to help our members respond to them?

Supply chain management and reporting will become a critical part of our industry’s licence to operate.

Scrap to be melted into new steel in an electric arc furnace at Nucor Steel

Our customers and society at large are demanding greater transparency and accountability in all aspects of our work, especially with respect to safety, environmental and labour standards.

The tragedy at the Brumadinho iron ore mine in the early part of last year highlights the importance of this work to the steel industry in particular.

Responding to pressure from their own customers, the construction, automotive and other sectors want to know more and more about how our products are made and where and how we source our raw materials.

Indeed, we may see our raw material suppliers wanting to work with us more closely than ever before to show their stakeholders that we are using their products responsibly.

worldsteel’s Sustainability Reporting Expert Group has developed a matrix for our 30 most important material inputs and their associated sustainability risks depending on where they are sourced from.

In the new year we will be widening the scope of our work on steel scrap, something that will become increasingly important this decade as the availability of scrap increases and we see a higher percentage of global crude steel produced by recycling scrap in electric arc furnaces.


The activism of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and others has heightened public awareness of climate change.

Having worked with worldsteel for some time now, the International Energy Agency (IEA) will this year publish its technology roadmap for the steel industry, which will set out a strategy for decoupling increases in steel production from related CO2 emissions.

We as an energy intensive sector with hard-to-abate CO2 emissions will have to clearly explain why decarbonising the global economy will be a steel-intensive process.

It will partly depend on our 100% and infinitely recyclable material. We will also have to communicate the capital-intensive and technically demanding work our members are doing in developing breakthrough technologies that will see virgin steel produced with net zero carbon.

This includes technologies that reduce iron ore with renewably-produced hydrogen and which thus reduce the need for coking coal.


Although such technologies will likely not be commercially viable in the next decade, worldsteel, through its step up programme, will in the meantime work with its members to drive short and medium-term process efficiency gains in raw material quality, energy efficiency, process yield and process reliability, all of which will reduce the industry’s impact on the climate.

Our industry is already making headway in responding to these new pressures, but there remains much to do. Fortunately, both the steel industry and steel as a product already play an important role in driving the sustainability that society expects.

I wish our members a happy new year and good luck with the challenges ahead.

Add your comment here:

  • 1

    Sustainability solutions need to be delivered to the industry.

    avatarnarendra talamaralaJan 15, 2020 5:56:03 PMReply

  • 2

    A very pertinent article tuned with the time. The issues faced by the steel industry have been brought out very precisely. The recycling of waste particularly the LD sludge is a grave concern. May you kindly provide information about what the steel industry all over world is doing about it. Anubinda Mohanty, DGM, Environment Engg., SAIL- Rourkela

    avatarANUBINDA MOHANTYJan 16, 2020 3:40:44 PMReply

  • 3

    Thank you for your comment, Mr Mohanty. You make a good point, although I’m pleased to say that we estimate the steel industry has a 96% material efficiency rate globally, meaning the vast majority of our outputs can be used as inputs for other industrial processes. LD sludge often has a high iron content, so it can be collected and used as an input in steelmaking. I think you will find our position paper on co-products of interest. Best wishes.

    avatarEdwin BassonJan 17, 2020 12:22:41 PMReply

  • 4

    Should demand step up it becomes imperative that supply follows in order to establish price equilibrium. However, supply does not simply catapult into the arena with raw material prices at their current levels. The need for value addition comes into consideration. Value addition calls for practices and technologies that encourage recycling. Steel is the fundamental basis of any nation’s development.

    avatarSomjeet Basu MallikJan 16, 2020 4:29:28 PMReply

  • 5

    Thank you for your comment, Mr Mallik. You will find our Short Range Outlooks (SROs) interesting. In October we forecast that steel demand would increase by 3.9% in 2019 to reach 1,775 Mt and would then increase by 1.7% in 2020 to reach 1,805 Mt. We will release an update in April of this year. As to your recycling point, with a 100% and infinitely recyclable material, the steel industry is a world leader here. Best wishes.

    avatarEdwin BassonJan 17, 2020 12:28:10 PMReply

  • 6

    Steelmaking is undergoing transformation by the elimination of fossil fuels for green steel technology. This is going to change process parameters while maintaining the basic look of blast furnaces as a symbol of the history of iron making. Similarly, hot metal refining using CO2 as a substitute for oxygen is also a possibility of making use of greenhouse gases and reducing their direct impact on the environment. We should welcome a new era of iron and steelmaking.

    avatarPrakash a BaggaJan 17, 2020 5:54:37 PMReply

  • 7

    Thank you for your comment, Mr Bagga. We are indeed entering a new era of steelmaking. It will be interesting to see the technologies develop in the coming years. Bear in mind that the choice of one technology over another will depend on plant configuration and local circumstances. The hydrogen route I mention in the blog may not be appropriate in areas of water scarcity like the Middle East. Carbon capture and storage technologies may be better suited to circumstances there. Best wishes.

    avatarEdwin BassonJan 20, 2020 10:53:19 AMReply

  • 8

    Having read some of the comments and the article, do you really think the steel industry is the main carbon pollution driver? I fear that the Gretas and the rebels are choosing the easy targets with governments that are forced to listen rather than ignore. Just take these figures: 1. China (30%), the world's most populated country has an enormous export market, which has seen its industry grow to become a serious danger to the planet. 2. United States (15%), the world's biggest industrial and commercial power. ... 3. India (7%). 4.Russia (5%). 5. Japan (4%). So in the grand scheme of things I think the steel industry is being unfairly targeted. I'm sorry but we are but a small fish in a big pond when making steel. No matter what is done there will be countries who will not follow the rules.

    avatarNicholas HibbardJan 24, 2020 6:43:55 AMReply

  • 9

    Thank you for your comment, Mr Hibbard. The steel industry is not the largest emitter of carbon emissions, but we take our responsibility to reduce our carbon emissions and our environmental impact more broadly very seriously. It is not only Greta and other activists who are asking that we do and are seen to do this, but our customers too. We as an industry need to respond accordingly. Best wishes.

    avatarEdwin BassonJan 27, 2020 11:11:10 AMReply

  • 10

    Thank you for the article. We are very interested in the following statement: "worldsteel’s Sustainability Reporting Expert Group has developed a matrix for our 30 most important material inputs and their associated sustainability risks depending on where they are sourced from." Can you say what they have determined with regard to the sustainability risks of individual input materials and how, where applicable, scrap metal has been rated? We would be very thankful for some feedback.

    avatarNicole KloseJan 30, 2020 2:16:50 PMReply

  • 11

    Thank you for your comment, Ms Klose. The matrix lists every country in the world with and rates which of the 30 material inputs have issues where. For example, there are child labour risks associated with charcoal production in Brazil, where charcoal is sometimes used as a substitute for coke. You will see in chapter 6.2 in the sustainability reports of the Brazilian Steel Institute that they and the individual steel producers in Brazil do a lot of work in this area to show to the outside world that they source their charcoal responsibly in full compliance with Brazilian law. The risks with each material, including scrap, are different depending on the country. Best wishes.

    avatarEdwin BassonJan 31, 2020 4:01:26 PMReply

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