Critical Technological Assessment of the Viability of Future UK Steel Production

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: WMG


There is a significant future UK demand opportunity for the UK steel industry, and a sustainable UK steel industry is vitally important to the UK's future growth prospects especially considering the now independent trading market the country is moving into. On the other hand, steel production is a major industrial contributor to CO2 emissions with on average 1.8 tonnes of CO2 produced per tonne of rolled coil via the integrated BF-BOF (blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace) route, while the scrap-based EAF (electric arc furnace) route in general only produces a quarter of the CO2 emissions compared to the BF-BOF route. Crude steel was produced in the UK at about 80-20% split between the BF-BOF integrated route and scrap-based EAF route, respectively.
The UK steel industry is being affected by grand trends and challenges, for example, strict environmental regulations, new energy and materials sources, global over-capacity and ever increasing customer requirements for high quality steel products. Additionally, it faces these challenges with little/no natural resources and higher energy cost compared to the EU and wider global competitors. However, with a potential change in technology strategy, significant advantages can be made through the exploitation of the abundant supply of UK generated steel scrap.
The prospect of moving to a scrap-based EAF industry as a low CO2 production pathway has been widely discussed because of the success of the business model in the US (e.g. Nucor) and Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey. This, linked with the current over-supply of steel scrap in the UK and its projected growth in quantity into the 2020's, gives, at the surface, a motivation for a scrap-based manufacturing route. However although the needed physical mass of scrap to cover UK supply requirements is likely to be available, the quality and thus applicability to the specific use of steel in our society is yet unknown. Currently the EAF route cannot produce certain high quality steel grades that the BF-BOF route is capable of, such as the high quality strip steels required by the automotive industry, a significant UK user of UK produced steel. In addition any viable UK steel industry needs to consider the current asset base and future UK energy strategy (for example, EAF route requires significantly higher electrical energy input). Therefore consideration of how different processing routes currently use scrap and can respond to higher scrap use (including the potential variability in scrap quality) is needed, along with an assessment of new technologies for scrap handling / sorting and steel manufacturing, all in the UK context.
The proposed research aims to evaluate the potential viable steel manufacturing routes in the UK, which can maximise the use of the abundant UK steel scrap supply for the production of high quality steel grades, meet the UK economic development (domestic consumption and export), and achieve a low carbon steel industry. Three process routes will be assessed from a technology point of view: the BF-BOF route, an alternative ironmaking-BOF route, and the scrap-based EAF route.
The project team will evaluate the distribution of scrap sources through levels of quality in a manner meaningful to the UK steel sector, including quality and accessibility while categorizing these against required outputs by different industrial sectors through the three identified potential process routes. New technologies for better scrap sorting and composition control, new steel manufacturing technologies with the potential to accommodate high residual scrap, and novel supply chain design will be explored. The proposed research will give a clear outline of a viable UK steel industry in the future and point out scientific and technological developments required to ensure the viability of the UK steel industry.

Planned Impact

Steel Industry - The success of this project will have significant impact on the UK steel industry, with the primary beneficiaries being the industrial partners - Tata Steel UK, Liberty Speciality Steels & British Steel. The UK steel industry will benefit from an independent open access of findings on the viable steel manufacturing routes, guided direction of research and development, and recommended technology investment to ensure a competitive/fit-for purpose UK steel industry. It will provide the UK steel industry with guidance on new technologies (e.g. advanced sensors-enabled, artificial intelligence-powered systems) for scrap sorting, new steel manufacturing technologies for using high residual scrap and scrap supply chain innovation, accelerating its transformation to a low carbon steel industry. Individual steel companies will gain direct economic benefits by substantially increased use of high residual but cheap scrap and consequently reduced energy consumption and CO2 emissions, which helps make the UK steel sector and the supply chains more sustainable.
Scrap recycling sector - ~10 Mt per year scrap is generated in the UK, two thirds of which is exported. A substantial amount of scrap containing high residuals cannot currently be recycled. The proposed research will provide a critical review of UK current practice, recommendation of best available technologies, exploration of new transformative technologies for scrap sorting, and a new framework of cyber-physical system enabled supply chain innovation. This will help transform the UK scrap recycling sector and ensure better control of scrap residuals for sustainable steel manufacturing. Substantially increased use of high residual scrap in the UK steel industry will bring significant economic, social and environmental benefits to the scrap recycling sector as well.
Other industry including supply chains - The success of the proposed research will help ensure the UK steel industry produce high quality steels in a sustainable way to support UK strategic advanced manufacturing and supply chains which is vitally important to the UK's future growth. It will provide the opportunities for equipment manufacturers to produce high tech equipment for scrap sorting/steel manufacturing.
Other industry beneficiaries include the wider global steel community and non-ferrous industries where the research methodology and outcomes of this project can be directly applicable.
Societal - The success of this project helps realise the significant future UK demand in the UK steel industry, which will ensure the sustainability of employment for people directly working in the steel industry and associated sectors such as the metal recycling sector.
Environmental - UK steel production is currently dominated by the BF-BOF (blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace) integrated route, emitting ~1.8 t CO2 per tonne steel, 76% of which is from the blast furnace ironmaking step. The scrap-based EAF process route can reduce CO2 emissions by more than 70% (cf. the integrated route), but contributes a small fraction of current steelmaking capacity. Alternative ironmaking-BOF processing can significantly reduce CO2 emissions and accept significant scrap feedstock. Therefore, change is needed to substantially increase the scrap use in the UK steel industry through different approaches. The success of this project will remove the bottleneck of the substantial use of scrap in steel industry, substantially reduce the CO2 emissions, and help the steel industry to meet the CO2 emission reduction by 80% before 2050.
Teaching - A number of new developments, such as advanced sensors-enabled & artificial intelligence-powered scrap sorting technologies, new steel manufacturing technologies with increased use of high residual scrap, and new business model for scrap supply will be good teaching materials on transforming conventional industry and inspiring the young generation engage with science and engineering.


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