We have so much that we owe to the Industrial Revolution; almost all the elements of our modern lives can be traced back to have started there. For all the benefits from this that we enjoy today, it certainly doesn’t bring the best images to mind; huge smoky chimneys and smog filled skies which also tend to go hand in hand when thinking of the products of the time, which includes steel.
It’s an image that is now deeply unfair because with the way modern steel is handled, it’s truly a material fit for the futuristic ideals of the 21st Century. West Yorkshire Steel tend to think that if the world had a colour, it would be the lustre of steel, as so much of our modern lives is built on it, but is the colour of steel actually green?
Steel in modern times isn’t just for construction of skyscrapers, airports and cityscapes, but even in the things we put in our homes. Most modern appliances are approximately 75% steel by weight, meaning that the abundance of steel around us makes it an ideal substance to recycle, and 100% of steel is recyclable.
In 2008 97% of all structural steel was recycled – given the amount of material this pertains to, it’s an exceptional figure and one other materials would be proud to achieve. In the same year, 106% of automotive steel in the US was recycled – and for those wondering how this is possible, because of the economic slowdown in the US over the previous few years, there were fewer cars made, but once demand picked up again, the numbers of old cars scrapped and recycled rose accordingly, supplying more recycled material than actually needed!
Given the fact that steel remains so much in demand but the availability of currently refined steel is so high, the only logical option would be recycling. The other option involves extracting ore, breaking down, transporting, refining and forging new steel, with the power for this coming from fossil fuels. The green credentials of this are obviously very poor, as every step of this requires large amounts of energy to physically transform and mould the material, controlling the composition and form.
By recycling, every metric tonne (1,000kg) of steel produced saves over 1.1 tonnes of iron ore, 630 kilos of coal and 55 kilos of limestone. Recycling steel doesn’t have a diminishing yield, meaning that taking one ton of steel to be recycled will give one ton of final product.
Instead of mining and transporting three materials, the ability to take an existing, unwanted product and reforming it as needed means that steel is one of the greenest materials on Earth. Not only is steel an essential product for our modern lifestyle, it acts as a link between the Industrial Revolution and the cleaner world of the future.