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Steel industry – a substantial contribution to the circular economy?

22 March 2023

Steel production is CO2- and energy-intensive. Although the steel industry appears to be committed to reducing its carbon and environmental footprint, there is still a long road ahead.

Demand for steel is increasing at an unprecedented rate. In 2021 alone, it grew by a staggering 15% from 2020 levels (132.2 Mt) and is expected to further grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.1% until 2025.

A recent factsheet published by the World Steel Association (world steel) shows that the integrated steelmaking route, based on blast furnace (BF) and basic oxygen furnace (BOF) uses, on average, 1,370 kg of iron ore, 780 kg of metallurgical coal, 270 kg of limestone, and 125 kg of recycled steel to produce 1,000 kg of crude steel. The mining of these primary raw materials is strongly connected with several environmental issues, these include:

  • Waste generation
  • Soil degradation and water pollution
  • Biodiversity and habitat loss
  • Energy consumption and GHG generation (from processing and transport)

On the other hand, the electric arc furnace (EAF) route is much more sustainable and circular. According to the factsheet, on average, the recycled steel-EAF route uses 710 kg of recycled steel, 586 kg of iron ore, 150 kg of coal and 88 kg of limestone and 2.3 GJ of electricity, to produce the equivalent of 1,000 kg of crude steel.

This confirms that recycling is at the heart of the circular economy and has the potential to substantially reduce the impact that steelmaking has on the planet. For this reason, EuRIC calls on the European Commission to set ambitious binding recycled targets for steel, in different product-specific legislation (e.g., the end-of-life vehicles and construction product regulations, etc).