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Steel’s contribution to circularity

Sarah Snellinx, Head of Sustainability for Automotive, Packaging and Electrical Steels at ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products

Circularity might be a new concept for some businesses, but for steel it’s second nature. The term circularity is often used as a synonym for recycling. But circularity in the steel industry goes way beyond recycling scrap steel.

Steel’s magnetic properties make it one of the easiest materials to recover from a waste stream.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

Reducing steel usage is one way we can preserve primary materials and enhance circularity. Advanced high-strength steels, press hardenable steels (PHS), and steel solutions such as ArcelorMittal Multi Part Integration® (MPI) are already helping carmakers to reduce vehicle weight and improve material efficiency. These highly advanced solutions minimise the amount of steel required in a vehicle. And when the vehicle reaches its end of life, this steel can be fully recycled to produce new steel products – including new vehicles.

Steel components are often the most durable parts of a product, so it makes sense to reuse them wherever possible. We see our automotive customers revisiting their designs to ensure reuse of components is possible. This can avoid carbon emissions as no new steel needs to be produced.

I’ve mentioned recycling, but steel has one property which makes it stand out when it comes to recycling: it’s magnetic! That makes it easier to extract steel from waste streams compared to any other material. This ensures that nearly all steel is captured and recycled to make new steel products. This is markedly different from other materials such as plastics which must be pushed to find a way back into the material production process at the end of their life.

Waste wood use at ArcelorMittal Gent

Circularity of by-products

By-products from the steelmaking process and other industries can help to retain natural resources for future generations. ArcelorMittal’s Smart Carbon technology partially replaces the use of coal in a blast furnace with carbon from sustainably sourced construction wood waste or other waste streams.

The Smart Carbon route also allows us to integrate carbon capture and reutilisation (CCU) or storage (CCS) technologies. Carbon emitted during the steelmaking process can be recovered and reused in the same steelmaking process, potentially making it a zero carbon-emission product. The International Energy Agency and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have identified these technologies as being critical to achieving net-zero steelmaking by 2050.

ArcelorMittal Gent (Belgium) has recently commissioned the Torero plant which will transform waste wood into bio-coal which is suitable for use in the blast furnace. The project will reduce the amount of fossil coal required.

The use of bio-coal will result in a bio-gas which is transformed into ethanol at the plant’s Steelanol (Carbalyst) facility. The bio-ethanol can be used as a building block to produce a variety of chemical products including transport fuels, plastics, and even perfumes. This will help the chemical sector to avoid the use of fossil fuels.

Another technology under development is ArcelorMittal’s Innovative DRI (direct reduced iron) pathway. DRI, along with recycled steel, is a key metallic input in an Electric Arc Furnace (EAF). Typically, the DRI is produced using natural gas. Innovative DRI replaces natural gas with an alternate, clean energy source such as hydrogen. If the hydrogen is produced using renewable electricity, it is possible to create zero-carbon DRI.

All of these initiatives are helping to ensure that steel will remain a key element in the circular economy of the future.

A circular economy with significant benefits for society, the environment, the economy, and our collective future.

Bio-ethanol production at ArcelorMittal Gent

More information

More information about XCarb®
More information about ArcelorMittal Multi Part Integration™ (MPI)
Website ArcelorMittal Belgium


Copyright pictures: Mark Mercer and ArcelorMittal