The Need for High-Quality Steel Scrap
The world produces about 2 billion tonnes of metal every year, from about 9.4 billion tonnes of metal ores extracted. Some 94% of all that metal is iron, primarily to make steel (https://www.mining.com/graph-global-metal-and-ore-production-at-a-glance/).
Historically, steel demand increased directly proportionally to GDP until the 1970ies. From around 1973 and until around 2000, the world saw a major decoupling, where GDP grew significantly, while steel production remained fairly flat. This was largely driven by the then-developed countries having reached an infrastructure per capita saturation point. From 2000 onwards, steel has picked up where it left and is back to tracking GDP, mainly driven by China, which now accounts for more than half of the global steel production (https://www.zenon.ngo/insights/fluxes-not-stocks-the-real-challenges-of-metallic-resources-for-the-energy-transition).
Steel is absolutely vital to the green transition because the main renewable energy technologies require more steel per unit of energy produced than existing fossil fuel technologies. Steel demand is therefore forecast to increase by more than a third by 2050 (https://www.iea.org/reports/iron-and-steel-technology-roadmap). This would likely mean that steel demand per capita would start to outgrow GDP.
"Steel production stands for 7 – 9% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions"
It is well-known that steel production stands for 7 – 9% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, so for steel demand to increase so dramatically would be devastating to the world's net zero ambitions, unless steel production could be made to emit much less greenhouse gases than it does at present.
Luckily, there are ambitious plans emerging to reduce emissions by up to 95% from the likes of H2GreenSteel and SSAB, both in Sweden, from global steel giant ArcelorMittal, and from many others. Many of these plans address emissions going back to the root, i.e. the extraction and processing of iron ore into steel, however, none of them can be made to work without the addition of steel scrap.
Steel scrap comes in many grades, but most grades have the inherent problem of contamination with other materials than steel, which, simply put, leads to a reduction in the strength of steel made with recycled scrap. So, while steel is touted as infinitely recyclable, there is a tendency towards a reduction in steel quality over several recycling cycles. For the steel to regain its quality, additions and further energy-consuming production steps need to be employed, leading to further emissions from the process.
Not so for the scrap derived from conscientiously dismantled marine assets. Because such assets are mainly large structures, with large, unbroken expanses of pure steel, they can be dismantled into very clean, uncontaminated steel scrap that will not reduce steel quality when resmelted. Because steel scrap requires much less energy per unit to be transformed into new steel than does conventionally extracted iron ore, emissions per unit are much lower. Recycling such high-quality scrap and employing it where quality steel is required would thus be beneficial to the green transition.
In a European context, on the background of a worsened security context, it is further worth noting that Europe remains a key outlet for Russian steel slabs and pig iron (https://eurometal.net/10-key-themes-for-steel-ferro-alloys-in-2024/). With the volumes of ship recycling set to increase very significantly as the large ships from the 1990'ies / 2000's ship construction boom approach their end of life, Europe has a significant opportunity to reduce this dependence and assure uncontroversial origin of its steel needs by retaining and expanding its ship recycling activities.
Renable's digital platform is aimed at accomplishing both tasks:
Optimising high-quality steel scrap's recycling journey; and
Providing certifiable origin of circular steel
Contact us if you wish to know more about how we can help.