Steel is everywhere in our daily lives from buildings and vehicles to the tin can that conserves food safely for months or years. It is the world’s most important engineering material. Nonetheless producing steel is extremely energy intensive. However, once produced, steel can be used again and again. With a global recovery rate of more than 70%, steel is the most recycled material on the planet. What’s more, 97% of by-products from steel manufacturing can also be reused. For example, slag from steel plants is often used to make concrete.
Thanks to continuous improvement of steelmaking processes, it now takes 50% less energy to make a tonne of steel than it did thirty years ago. Using less energy means releasing fewer greenhouse gases, a key factor in combating climate change. Indeed, considered over its entire lifecycle, steel products can have less environmental impact than products made from alternative materials such as aluminum or plastic.
Moreover, today’s advanced high-strength steels are stronger and lighter, so less steel is required to deliver the same structural integrity. A lighter car or cargo ship will be more fuel efficient, reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Steel also has an important role in the world’s growing infrastructure for renewable energy. The latest steels are enabling taller, stronger, lighter-weight towers for wind turbines, increasing their efficiency and reducing the carbon emissions associated with their construction by up to 50%. New roofing systems combine photovoltaic cells with galvanized steel panels. Steel producers are even working with the solar industry to explore innovations such as roofing coated with dyes that can directly generate electricity.
At the same time, steel plants are cleaner and safer than ever before. Improving health and safety is a key industry goal, with manufacturers continually striving to reduce accidents at work. As a result, the industry’s lost-time injury frequency rate halved between 2004 and 2009 – the industry is now aiming for an injury-free workplace.