The Climate Emergency & the UK Pre Painted Steel Sector

Is the Pre Painted steel sector really on track for Carbon Net Zero by 2050?

The iron & steel industry accounted for 7.2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2016: this compares to the aviation industry which was responsible for just 1.9% (source: ourworldindata.org). Our industry clearly has a huge task ahead of it to meet the UK Government’s pledge to get to Net Zero by 2050. If 2050 seems like a long time away, it’s only 28 years and just 28 years ago from 2022:

  • The channel tunnel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and the French President François Mitterrand
  • The UK’s first National Lottery was introduced
  • Three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna was killed during the San Marino Grand Prix
  • The Sunday Trading Act 1994 came into full effect allowing retailers to open for up to 6 hours on a Sunday.
  • The Nemesis Roller Coaster (Europe’s first inverted roller coaster) opened at Alton Towers
  • Four Weddings & A Funeral was released in cinemas

It’s not a long time at all.

Whilst we’re all being more conscientious of our choices both at home and in the workplace, at a typical rate of around 2 mt CO2e (Carbon emissions equivalent) per mt of steel produced, there isn’t a simple solution to the challenge the steel industry faces. Just take a moment to let that sink in – for every 1 metric tonne of steel produced, 2 metric tonnes of CO2e is produced.

There clearly needs to be a fundamental shift in how the industry creates and processes its material in order to achieve the target. Original steel manufacturers are where the bottle neck in the industry truly lies because the product itself carries such a heavy carbon burden that those along the supply chain, such as Benbow Steels and their customers, will continue to register a high carbon footprint until the original product has a significantly reduced CO2e.

So what are the UK’s main pre painted steel (aka colour coated steel or organically coated steel) steel producers doing to ensure they get to Net Zero by 2050?

Tata Steel Shotton works in North Wales, where all of the UK’s production of Colorcoat® prefinished steel is made, has recently launched an ambitious sustainability commitment with a 20% CO2e reduction expected in the first year alone.

Photo of Tata Steel Shotton works: source: www.tatasteeleurope.com

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to delivering a sustainable future; it’s only when the various aspects of mitigating climate change, supporting biodiversity and being a responsible manufacturer all come together that we can make a real difference.”

www.tatasteeleurope.com

They have committed to switching all of their electricity supply to 100% renewable using sources such as solar, wind, biomass, and hydro- this alone will reduce the site’s annual CO2e by 16%

Setting a goal of 100% recovery of waste generated on site they’re already at almost 90% recovery: the site’s own onsite vehicle fleet will be switched to electric or alternative fuel such as biofuel or HVO: all lighting will switch to energy efficient alternatives. As well as these specific carbon reduction initiatives, their site is surrounded by areas that are designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), RAMSAR areas (wetland site designated to be of international importance) and areas that play a huge contribution to carbon sequestration which means they’re uniquely placed to preserve and restore the natural landscape and have committed to protecting and expanding the biodiversity that exists on and around the works.

In their current product range both Colorcoat HPS200 Ultra® and Colorcoat Prisma® have product specific Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) which comply to EN 15804 and ISO 14025 and both products are certified to BES 6001 responsible sourcing standard. They were the first pre-finished steel products to achieve this more than a decade ago.

The real impact on the industry though will be when they bring new products to the market in the medium to long term which are currently in the R&D stage. These include solar-reflective pigments and bio-based & solvent-free alternatives which will reduce the embodied carbon of the products.

The mill at Port Talbot is key to Tata Steel’s overall UK CO2e reduction programme as this is where the steel substrate is produced. We know that strategic options are being assessed and we wait with keen interest to see what their plans will be.

What are other Pre Painted Steel Suppliers Doing?

Whilst the UK was the first country to set a Net Zero by 2050 law, other countries have followed closely behind, and Europe is leading the way in low carbon steel production initiatives. It’s essential to the bigger picture though as, whilst steel is already infinitely recyclable, it’s also used in abundance with almost 1.9 billion tonnes produced every year (Source: ArcelorMittal). With 7 million of these tonnes produced by the UK in 2021 only 2.6mt of this was recycled steel. (Source: Make UK)

“As the world’s most prolific material, steel can make a huge contribution to the decarbonisation of the global economy”

Aditya Mittal, CEO, ArcelorMittal

ArcelorMittal also supplies the UK with pre painted steel from their factories in Europe, mostly Ghent in Belgium, and they’re working hard on ensuring the original product becomes Net Zero by 2050. How seriously they’re taking this is clear from the fact that their Executive Board have environmental targets linked to their renumeration packages and the company have, so far, committed to investing $10billion to get to Net Zero by 2050.

For some years now they have been testing new technologies on an industrial scale in Europe and some are in the final stages of development before full deployment.

One of these technologies is Carbalyst® (also known as Steelanol®) which is based in Ghent and involves capturing carbon gases emitted from the blast furnace during the steelmaking process and converting them into bio-ethanol. It is expected to produce 80m litres of bioethanol annually which can be blended with traditional gasoline as a low-carbon alternative fuel for vehicles.

There are two reactors being built for the Torero® project, also at Ghent, which will each produce 40,000 tonnes of bio-coal per annum that can be used in the blast furnace as a substitute for the traditional coal.

Biofuel for use in the Blast Furnace at Ghent- Source ArcelorMittal Belgium/ Perpetual Next
Photo of biofuel for use in the Blast Furnace at Ghent- Source ArcelorMittal Belgium/ Perpetual Next

The Ghent mill is also the site of the largest solar roof in Belgium with more than 27,000 panels. The power generated will be used within the steel site itself to reduce their reliance on other carbon intensive energy sources. Notably over in Spain, ArcelorMittal are building the world’s first full-scale zero carbon-emissions steel plant. By 2025 the site at Sestao, which manufactures a range of flat steel products for the automotive & construction sectors, and general industry, is aiming to produce 1.6 million tonnes of zero carbon-emissions steel.

ArcelorMittal’s XCarb® initiative is a three part carbon reduction programme which incorporates a massive Investment Fund, Green Steel Certificates and Recycled & Renewably steel. Benbow Steels have been supporting this initiative by being the first in the UK to supply customers with the XCarb® Green Steel Certificates.

Product specific EPDs are available for Granite HDX and Estectic and their Granite HDX product uses just 25% of the paint that the Plastisol range uses but carries a similar, or in some cases longer, product guarantee.

Net Zero in the UK Colour Coated Steel Industry by 2050?

A lot of talk is about achieving a “reduction” in CO2e but that’s a dubious target when we’re talking about achieving Net Zero: no one is clapping for a “significant” reduction if that reduction doesn’t get us to Net Zero by 2050. To get to Net Zero steel needs to average less than 0.4Kg CO2e per mt of steel rather than the average of 2mt CO2e per mt of steel that it is now. So there’s a very long way to go in 28 years and a lot more innovation needs to happen if we’re to reach Net Zero by 2050 but, if the industry carries on innovating at the pace it is currently, we might just get there.

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