SUSTAIN Manufacturing Hub

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Engineering


SUSTAIN is an ambitious collaborative research project led by the National Steel Innovation Centre at Swansea University to transform the productivity, product diversity and environmental performance of the steel supply chain in the UK. Working with Warwick Manufacturing Group and the University of Sheffield, the SUSTAIN Manufacturing Hub will lead grand challenge research projects of carbon neutral steel and ironmaking and smart steel processing. Carbon neutral steel making will explore how we can transition the industry from using coal as its primary energy source to a mix of waste materials, renewable energy and hydrogen. Smart steel processing will examine how digital technology and sensors can be used to increase productivity and also explore how a transformation in the way in which steel is processed can add significant value and create new markets, in particular construction, whilst expanding the opportunities afforded by advanced steel products in the electrification of vehicular transport. The UK steel businesses cover different market sectors and are all engaged in this project committing >£13M in supporting funds. Tata Steel lead work on strip steel products used in automotive (inc electrical steels for generators and motors construction) and packaging applications. British Steel produce long products for key sectors such as rail transport and construction. Liberty Specialty produce unique steels for sectors such as aerospace and nuclear power, Sheffield Forgemasters manufacture products for power generation, defence and civil nuclear industries, and Celsa make section steels and reinforcement primarily for construction. This represents a key element of advanced materials that underpin a large proportion of the UK manufacturing sector. The increasing diversity and lower carbon intensity of UK made steel products together with greater productivity and efficiency will thus benefit the whole of UK manufacturing and create opportunities for manufacturing t make inroads into traditional areas for example by driving offsite manufactured construction alternatives to traditional low skill labour intensive routes. Steel is the world's most used and recyclable advanced material and this project aims to transform the way it is made. This includes approaches both to use and re-use it and harness opportunities to turn any waste product into a value added element for another industry. To illustrate, a steel plant produces enough waste heat to power around 300,000 homes. New materials can trap this heat allowing it to be transported to homes and offices and be used when required without the need for pipes. This then makes the manufacturing site an embedded component of the community and is clearly a model applicable to any other high energy manufacturing operation in other sectors. We will at each stage explore how our discoveries in transforming steel can be mapped onto other key foundation materials sectors such as glass, petrochemicals and cement. Implementation of the research findings will be facilitated via SUSTAIN's network of innovation spokes ensuring that high quality research translates to highly profitable and competitive processes.

Planned Impact

Industrial Impact: The six principal steel companies in the UK are aligned to support and implement the outputs of this ambitious programme and have committed almost £8M in support covering staff secondments, funded research positions, PhD and academic sponsorship and trial costs. It is also endorsed by the pan industry Steel Council. The effect on the wider manufacturing base of reducing the carbon intensity of steel production has massive value as do new steel products and processes that support key sectors requiring transformation including electrification of transport and manufactured buildings. We believe this will seed transformative growth in the UK manufacturing base as a whole and the grand challenge themes not only support steel but other foundation materials supply chains (glass, petrochemicals and cement) making the application of the research have truly global potential. These impacts will be realised via a structured approach to innovation that draws on transformative research in the hub and from the wider international academic community. SUSTAIN has a clear strategy for accelerating these impacts via the innovation hubs with SPECIFIC, WMG HVM Catapult and the Henry Royce Centre facilitating pan-supply chain innovation and the Materials Processing Institute upscaling novel processes. This will ensure sustainability for the industry, de-risking the processes by identifying technical pitfalls and future markets whilst bridging the valley of death.

Environmental Impact: The steel industry in the UK is a substantial energy consumer and producer of carbon dioxide. The ambition of SUSTAIN is to create an opportunity of radically reducing carbon emissions from production. With the traditional iron ore to steel route leading to around 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide released per tonne of steel, the opportunities for substantial carbon savings from the industry are clear since the projected demand for steel in the UK by 2020 is forecast to increase to 11Mt/y.This will represent a significant UK opportunity which, if successful, can be used globally in both developed and emerging economies allowing economic growth and global carbon emissions to be decoupled.

Economic Impact: The steel manufacturing sector supports 31,400 high skilled jobs in the UK. The ambition of this project is to create new opportunities that will allow the sector to grow to 35,000. The establishment of the NSIC at Swansea and the associated automotive focused hub at WMG has created 90 jobs in Tata alone within a newly re-invigorated R and D function and an additional 700 technical apprentices have been appointed within the sector in the last year. The recent Grant Thornton report into the future of the sector has identified potential to grow the GVA of the steel industry from £1.2bn to £2.4bn. This will require detailed research and training to be delivered by the UK HEI sector and SUSTAIN is the nucleation point for starting this ambitious delivery plan.


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