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Acting responsibly

The Australian steel industry shares the view that sustainable development is a worldwide priority. Through efficient use of resources, design of products and their uses and reduction of greenhouse emissions and water use, we have an opportunity to lower the impact of climate change.

The Australian steel industry is working alongside other material product providers through the Building Products Innovation Council (BPIC) to develop measures and provide details of its product data so building systems can determine their environmental impact.

EarthAdditionally, the industry has a proven track record in improving the life cycle environmental performance of its products. (We are proud to remember that steel led the way in the Green 2000 Sydney Olympics.)

The energy and greenhouse gas emission intensity of steel production has decreased markedly (estimated at 40 percent ) in the past 25 years through continuous improvement and technological change. (The Crucible, “Environmental Performance of Steel in Buildings”)

The recovery rate of steel for recycling is at record levels and for structural steel is rated at about World’s Best Practice.

There is still much to do and the ASI is actively progressing through its Sustainability Committee mechanisms for the steel industry to make a positive contribution to the life cycle performance of steel in the built environment of Australia.

Improving performance: energy and greenhouse gas emissions

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Over the past 30 years, Australia's steel industry has moved from 100 percent ingot casting to 100 percent continuous casting; continuous casting improves yields and saves about 25 percent of the energy formerly required to make slabs.

The Victorian EPA has recognised the achievements of BlueScope's Western Port works in reducing airborne emission by between 32 and 67 percent despite production increases. For example, extensive redesign of the No. 2 paint line resulted in major natural gas savings and the halving of greenhouse gas emissions.

Improving performance: water

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The recent drought has driven Western Port plant to pursue major water conservation initiatives. Waste water discharge from the plant has already been reduced by 40 percent. The installation of advanced waste water treatment technology will recycle 300 Ml of water annually and further reduce fresh water usage by 40-80 percent.

Port Kembla has reduced water consumption in steelmaking from over 5.0 to 2.5 kl per tonne of slab over the past 10 years. An initiative between BlueScope Steel and Sydney Water will further reduce the demand for fresh water by 50 percent. Sydney Water will supply 20 million litres of recycled, treated waste water to the steelworks every day.

Future directions

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Approximately 70% of the world’s steel is made by the blast furnace process which is dependent on carbon to achieve reduction of iron ore (iron oxide) to metallic iron. The remaining 30% is made by recycling scrap in the electric arc furnace process, which is not dependent on carbon but is dependent on the availability of scrap. The efficiency of scrap collection is very high because of the high value of steel scrap and the opportunities for expanding steel production based on scrap are therefore limited.

Consequently the major proportion of steel to be made in the immediate future will be carbon dependent and will involve generation of CO2.

The steel industry worldwide recognises that this is unlikely to be an acceptable proposition in the longer term and the 50 major steel companies of the world (including BlueScope Steel and OneSteel in Australia) have committed to “Climate Action”, an initiative of the World Steel Association. At the core of this program is the collection and reporting of CO2 emissions data by the steel plants in all the major steel-producing countries.

The industry has proposed a framework which needs to involve as many steel-producing companies as possible. The framework uses an intensity-based approach to measurement of CO2 emissions. Its globally consistent methodology will allow production normalised CO2 emission comparisons between regions that are not possible today.

The World Steel Association provides a forum where the various national and regional research and development programmes on identifying breakthrough technologies for steel manufacture can exchange information on their projects.These include the ULCOS programme funded by the European Commission and the European steel industry; the Course 50 research programmed in Japan; the US steel industry and US Department of Energy programmes; the POSCO programme in Korea and many others including programs in Australia.

The ASI is party to the World Steel Association Sustainability Group. Access worldsteel's links here:
Environmental sustainability
Efficient use of materials
Climate Action programme
Sustainability indicators