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Climate change, regionalisation to impact on global steelmaking

7th September 2023

By: Cameron Mackay

Creamer Media Senior Online Writer

     

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Global body World Steel Association director-general Dr Edwin Basson contends that signficant trends such as climate change and the need to decarbonise industrial activity, as well as regionalisation and shifts in steel production regionally, are set to significantly impact on global steel production in the coming years.

Speaking at the South African Iron and Steel Institute’s Southern African Steel Summit, held in Johannesburg last week, Basson also stressed the contributions the steel industry had made to the global economy, particularly to economic systems, wealth creation and employment creation.

This contribution also includes value-added production in the steel-using value chain.

In 2017, the steel value chain contributed value to the amount of $2.9-billion globally. Meanwhile, steel supply industries contributed about $1.2-billion to the value chain, and other steel-using sectors contributed another $1.2-billion.

“The steel industry made a significant contribution to the global economy, which was about 4% at the time. Six-million people, meanwhile, worked in the steel industry directly, which comes in addition to about 40-million in the suppliers’ industries and an equal number in the steel-using industries, which brings the total to more than 95-million jobs.

“The industry is an enabler of economic activity and it’s important to maintain the capabilities of the sector. What we see today in many developing economies, is a return to the notion of steel driving the economic system. This, however, assumes that a number of supporting factors are in place, such as good transport systems, administration and others,” he told delegates.

He pointed out that steel was a “volume industry”, and that while it was not the largest industry, it contributed significantly to value creation in many other industries.

He particularly highlighted the contribution steel made to the construction sector, as globally it was the largest consumer of steel and the largest value creator.

CLIMATE CHANGE MEGATREND
While he noted that trends such as climate change, technological progress, socioeconomic changes and geopolitical events were set to significantly influence the steel industry going forward, he argued that climate change would be the most significant “megatrend”.

This is owing to the need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in industrial activities.

Basson said the development of renewable forms of energy was vital and emphasised the importance of establishing a circular economy, which included four steps.

The first is to produce as efficiently as possible, the second is to try to reuse materials after the first cycle, the third step is to manufacture using existing materials and the fourth step is to recycle.

“The steel industry is good at step one and step four. We are one of the most efficient industries globally; 97% of what goes into the front of a steel factory comes out at the back end and is a useful product, which is highest in the world manufacturing industries. The loss rate in our industry is very small.

“It's because we’re using technology that's 150 to 200 years old, and over time we've been perfecting that technology. We’re however not good at phase two and phase three, because at phase four, recycling, we're already recycling 84% of all steel that’s ever been produced again,” Basson pointed out.

He added that the global average period between making steel and recycling steel was about 40 years, but that this time period changed drastically depending on the steel product.

“The notion of the circular economy is if you can expand that 40 years, you push forward the need for new steel. As the figures today would say, roughly two-billion tonnes of crude steel are produced every year globally. This presents a huge amount of CO2 savings, much lower pressure on raw materials and it helps us as a global society to address this environmental challenge.

“We therefore need to start thinking, also, in design of products that use steel, how will we design this for reuse and recycling? There’s already a lot of reuse of steel in South Africa. One of our biggest challenges is the needed global reduction in CO2 emissions in all industries,” Basson said.

He added that this need for CO2 emissions reductions would force steel industry role-players to reconsider how this technology would impact how products were made and materials were used, how supply chains were adjusted, how infrastructure and manufacturing networks were managed and how this contributed to the circular economy.

REGIONAL DISTRIBUTION

Basson noted that, while half of all the steel produced globally was made in China, the country’s development was becoming a smaller portion of the global steel producing world.

Southeast Asian countries such as India are becoming more prominent in global steel production, he added.

Meanwhile, other Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are also net importers of steel. Plans for steel production facilities in these countries could change this going forward, however, he added.

Africa and the Middle East, meanwhile, are also net importers of steel, which has been mainly driven by development in the Middle East.

Basson also highlighted that developed regions such as the US and European Union had changed from net exporters of steel to net importers in recent years.

He argues that, while South Africa has become a net importer of steel in recent years – not dissimilar to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa – there is an opportunity “to benefit from expected African growth”.

“South Africa uses a lot of steel infrastructure, which is logical for a country with South Africa’s characteristics, and the country also uses a lot of steel in machine goods. This is something to maintain and focus on going forward, particularly given infrastructure developments in Africa,” Basson said.

“When steel is imported, it’s used for something. South Africa just needs to figure out how to use the steel, support it, transport it and how to best to satisfy local regulations and requirements.

“We’ll also see a geopolitical rebalancing, as the world is not a single club anymore as a global society like it was before. This began more than five years ago, but Covid-19 has given an additional boost to this process of regionalisation.

“This creates lots of new opportunities for regional preference areas, regional use areas and approaches, which can actually become a protection against other regions. Between climate change and regionalisation, we will see adjustments in technology, adjustments in how vehicles are made. There's lots of adjustments taking place in construction at the moment, in terms of being a CO2-free construction. Construction is not the real problem in most buildings, it's the lifetime of using energy to heat and cool the building,” he stated.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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