Environmental sustainability

steel application in transport: bike, bicycle

Climate change is the biggest issue for the steel industry in the 21st century. Reducing CO2 emissions in steelmaking must be tackled on a global level. Making the substancial CO2 reductions required will need technology transfer, collaboration and breakthrough technologies.

The reduction of CO2 from steel production is an established priority, as is the reduction of GHG emissions during the life cycle of products that use steel. Our member companies incorporate strategies into their businesses to improve processes and drive product innovation in this direction.

Our fact sheet titled Climate change mitigation by technology, innovation and best practice transfer provides details on the four directions currently under examination. These are:

  • Carbon – will continue being used as a reducing agent but the CO2 produced will be captured and stored. The approach is similar to the power industry’s effort to cut emissions from fossil fuel-based power plants although the steel production solutions propose pure oxygen-based operation and in-process CO2 capture.
  • Hydrogen – is used as a reducing agent replacing carbon, as the reaction produces only water vapour. Hydrogen, either pure or as a synthesis gas (syngas) through reforming methane or natural gas, can be used in conventional direct-reduction reactors or in more futuristic flash reactors.
  • Biomass – can be used to generate the reducing agent (carbon), either from charcoal for example or syngas. Biomass in such a scheme would need to be grown effectively near the place of use and in sufficient quantities to make it economically viable and sustainable.
  • CCS – carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) is a necessary process at present to achieve the large shift in emissions to atmosphere and to store it or use CO2 for other purposes.

The World Steel Association acts as a focal point both for steel industry knowledge exchange and a shared global approach. It also works with the International Energy Agency, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and, through its members, the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

Efficient use of resources, re-use and recycling are also imperatives for sustainable development. Material efficiency is an integral part of the modern steelmaking process. Our goal is to use all raw materials to their full capacity, ensuring zero waste from steelmaking. This ambition guarantees that almost every by-product formed during steelmaking is used in new products. This approach minimises the amount of waste sent to landfill, reduces emissions, and preserves raw materials.

Environmental sustainability is also related to the development of new and stronger products, which in the long-term will provide clear and lasting positive benefits for the environment. 

For the steel industry, the impact of steel during the entire life cycle of products, the use of by-products, recycling, energy and water management are important focus areas.

Another example is the efficient use of energy. This has always been one of the steel industry’s key priorities. Cost is a key incentive for this, considering that energy purchases account for 20-40% in basic steel production. One worldsteel study estimates that steel companies have cut their energy consumption per tonne of steel produced by 60% since 1960. While existing production technologies are already very efficient, every steel company is at a different point of maturity and development.

In 2008, Climate Action was launched, under which companies report data on site- or company-level CO2 emissions. A participating company or site receives a report showing the process route average emission data and range to which it can compare itself. Read more in the Climate Action Programme section (via the link on the right).