As nations around the world seek to improve their standards of living and lift populations out of poverty, it is inevitable that the demand for steel will increase.
Even as it addresses the needs and challenges of today’s economic environment, the steel industry is looking ahead at the challenges that are just over the horizon. Materials that are stronger and meet higher environmental standards will be needed. New generations of steel continue to be developed that make it possible for manufacturers and builders to implement durable, lightweight designs.
Steel is critical simply because no other material has the same unique combination of strength, formability and versatility. Without being aware of it, society now depends on steel. Humankind’s future success in meeting challenges such as climate change, poverty, population growth, water distribution and energy limited by a lower carbon world depends on applications of steel.
Steel plays a critical role in virtually every phase in our lives. The rails, roads and vehicles that make up our transport systems use steel. Steel provides a strong framework and connections in the buildings where we work, learn and live. It protects and delivers our water and food supply. It is a basic component in technologies that generate and transmit energy.
More than half of the steel produced worldwide goes into steel buildings and infrastructure. The population will increase by another 2.7 billion people by 2050 and this will be accompanied by rapid urbanisation. The need for buildings and infrastructure will continue to grow worldwide in years to come. Steelmakers around the world are increasingly providing construction solutions that enable energy-effcient and low-carbon-neutral buildings. These solutions are highly material efficient and recyclable.
Mobility is essential to our modern way of life. The efficient transport of goods has become key to our ever more globalised economy. Freight has almost doubled over the past 30 years. Nearly 15% of steel produced worldwide is used to meet society’s transport needs. It is also essential to the related infrastructure: roads, bridges, ports, stations and airports.
Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS) are now used for nearly every new vehicle design. New grades of AHSS enable carmakers to reduce vehicle weight by 25-39% compared to conventional steel. When applied to a typical five-passenger family car, the overall weight of the vehicle is reduced by 170 to 270 kg, which corresponds to a lifetime saving of 3 to 4.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases over the vehicle’s total life cycle. This saving in emissions represents more than the total amount of CO2 emitted during the production of all the steel in the vehicle.
Energy is essential for the development of society and steel is critical for supplying the world with energy. Whether based on fossil fuels, nuclear technology or renewables, steel is indispensable in the recovery, production, distribution and storage of energy. Steel also has an important role to play in improving the efficiency of these energy sources.
Steel is needed for growing, storing and delivering our food. It is also needed in water collection, storage, purification and distribution. Almost 200 billion cans of food are produced each year. Compared to other food preservation methods, steel cans save energy because refrigeration and freezing is not needed. Steel cans are 100% recyclable and have an average global recycling rate of 68%. There is also potential to make steel cans reusable and lighter by altering designs and canning processes.
If a product is not made of steel, the chances are that it will be made from a machine made of steel. Steel is all around us; your car, your phone, your fridge - even the plastic and glass bottles you have inside your fridge - they are all made either of steel, or manufactured using steel tools. Plastic car parts, glasses and computer chassis are all manufactured in moulds made of steel. Steel is essential in our modern world.