The inclusion of the fledgling ‘green steel’ industry into the current political debate has been welcomed by Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Materials Processing Institute.
The Labour Party included a pledge to create three new steel recycling plants in Redcar, Workington and Corby in its election manifesto.
Whilst such proposals may prove ambitious, he says the country’s politicians must recognise the importance of the urgent need to transition to low carbon industries.
The process – which involves electric arc technology – would replace the need to produce steel using highly-polluting coal-fired blast furnaces and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign steel.
Electric arc technology uses high currents to melt down scrap steel and at the same time burns off impurities to convert it into liquid steel.
Chris said: “This method is far less polluting, reducing emissions by at least two thirds over the traditional blast furnace method, with the potential for near zero emissions. It also supports the development of the circular economy by recycling scrap steel which this country has in abundance.
“The UK lags behind many other countries in the development of this cleaner technology, producing just 22 per cent of steel through recycling – compared to 60 percent in the United States.”
Global metals and engineering group Liberty House – which has begun construction of a powder metals development facility at the Institute’s research and innovation campus on Teesside – has already pledged to achieve carbon neutral steel operations by 2030.
In order to achieve this, it will use renewable energy, hydrogen technology and focus on recycling scrap steel over raw materials and may invest in technology in the UK.
Tata Steel, the UKs largest steel producer, is also investing in research to reduce carbon emissions. Chris said: “Every day the world consumes more steel than we did the day before. The world produces 650m tonnes of recycled steel annually and the UK must seize the opportunity, and that requires the support of politicians of all parties.
“Producing green steel will cut CO2 levels by two thirds over traditional steelmaking, will reduce waste, preserve natural resources and extend the life of the material – which is at the heart of the UK’s manufacturing and construction sectors.”
However, one of the great barriers to its development is the high cost of energy in the UK, more than half as much more than in Germany and France.
He added: “I’m very pleased that the green steel industry is now part of the political debate as it needs both private industry, experts such as the Materials Processing Institute and government to work together to ensure this country retains a viable, net zero carbon steel industry which can play a central part in meeting its future domestic needs.”