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How the UK’s steel industry is increasing the demand for renewables

Posted on October 29th, 2018 in News

Everywhere across the world we’re seeing an increase in the use of renewable energy, and one surprising area that’s pushing this demand in the UK is the steel recycling industry.

Sanjeev Gupta, chairman of the GFG Alliance, spoke at AES 2018 about the effect green steel is having in the UK and what Australia can learn from this transition.

 

Understanding steel

Steel production is often used as an indicator of a country’s wellbeing, as it’s used in almost all major building projects. Steel is a key component in skyscrapers, bridges and large buildings such as airports or stadiums.

One of the main reasons for its widespread use is that it’s long lasting. It also has some almost unique recycling traits: steel is fully recyclable, can be recycled continuously without losing strength and its more energy efficient to recycle steel than it is to create primary steel.

Gupta explained the situation in the UK, “On average, steel lasts about 40 years. After it runs out its life, it has to be recycled. Countries like the UK, which were the first to industrialise, have accumulated vast mountains of steel.”

“We have almost a billion tonnes of steel in our system. We only consume about 20 million tonnes per year, including all the products made out of steel which we import.”

“Currently, we produce about ten million tonnes of scrap in the UK. This ten million tonnes will double over the next decade or 15 years– it will go to 20 million of scrap – and it will keep increasing, because once you have made this much steel, eventually you don’t need to make it.”

 

Renewable energy backing green steel

Large-scale recycling requires a lot of energy which can be expensive and, depending on its source, can undo a lot of the good work done in recycling metal. To combat this, GFG uses small-scale energy plants to power their recycling work, calling on the power of renewable where possible.

Gupta said, “Every single plant we have in the UK, we have 50-odd plants now, more or less every one of them has an energy plant which is collocated behind the meter. We are using our own energy whether it’s hydro, whether it’s solar, whether it’s wind, whether it’s batteries, whether it’s biomass.”“We have various different initiatives, we make about 1000 MW of energy in the UK, which was initially set up to serve our own steel and aluminium needs, but now serves other customers as well.“

“We have various different initiatives, we make about 1000 MW of energy in the UK, which was initially set up to serve our own steel and aluminium needs, but now serves other customers as well.“

 

What Australia can learn from the UK

Like the UK, Australia has huge amounts of scrap steel in circulation, although almost half of it is being exported. The green steel industry is very much in its infancy here, and that’s partly due to high energy costs and, in some cases, unreliable sources of energy.

With solar power an abundant source of energy, and hydro and wind viable over much of the country, the opportunity exists to mix renewables with the piles of scrap material available.

Gupta told his audience about the work his company is carrying out at Whyalla, where they currently have a plant producing one million tonnes of green steel but want to double this and then grow to ten million tonnes in the near future. There, they will use pumped hydro, 780,000 solar panels and big battery to power their plant – creating enough energy for 96,000 homes.

He said, “Whyalla has the infrastructure and it has the resources to be able to be a very large steel producer. The first step is to get the current plant revamped and it’s outdated, it’s old technology. It hasn’t been invested in for a long time and we need to get it up to date, and then we will expand out further.”

As businesses in the UK have shown, this two-pronged approach to environmental sustainability has had real benefits for all involved and we may soon be seeing that in Australia too.