1 December 2008

Getting more out of less

Reduced energy consumption, more efficient use of steel, and increased recycling of scrap metal are the overarching aims of the research programme Steel Eco-Cycle. Industrial models and tools will be developed in the programme´s second phase.

Steel Eco-Cycle is a Mistra-financed research programme with the overarching aim of ensuring that steel and the alloys associated with it are not lost in the steel lifecycle. At the same time, the program works to improve the steel lifecycle and reduce energy consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions.

Steel Eco-Cycle is a collection of projects. Nine technical projects focus on the development of processes and products. But there are also two projects focused on environmental value. One applies a natural science life-cycle analysis. The other is behavior oriented and studies people´s attitudes and values regarding the environment.

Environmental perspective
“Both of the environmental value projects contain very important information. The natural science study reviews and evaluates all of the other projects from an environmental perspective. In that way, we are able to analyze the environmental value of the entire steel lifecycle, from raw materials to products," says Göran Andersson, Assistant Programme Director and active in Jernkontoret — the Swedish Steel Producers´ Association.

All of the projects in Steel Eco-Cycle demonstrate extensive environmental benefits for society, as well as meaningful results for the industry. “We performed an evaluation where we assumed that all of our projects had been introduced in the steel industry in 2005, and compared the resulting energy consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions with actual levels. The comparison illustrated that the steel industry has an energy-efficiency potential of about ten terawatt hours per year and could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 1.9 tonnes. The potential lies in part in the steel production process, but also in more efficient raw material usage through significant increases in recycling of steel and other metals. In short, you get more out of less," says Andersson.

Active industry participation
Steel Eco-Cycle covers the entire steel lifecycle, from collecting and handling of scrap metal to steel production, rolling techniques and use and re-use of steel. The programme is investing in new methods that will strengthen the entire steel lifecycle and lead to new, advanced steel products. A new method for analyzing the contents of scrap steel has been developed under one of the projects. By aiming a laser pulse at a surface it is possible to take readings on what the surface is comprised of as well as what the metal contains, such as chrome, copper and nickel. “In that way, one gains much better knowledge about what the material be handled is and what is being melted into the steel-production process. We get a smarter and more effective smelt and retain metals in the production cycle," says Göran Andersson.

Surface cleaning
A method of cleaning scrap surfaces prior to smelting has been developed in another project. By cleaning the scrap metal we avoid introducing contaminants and broaden the range of appropriate applications for the steel produced.

The individual projects in the research programme have been selected for their large potential to achieve the overarching aims of reducing energy consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions as well as retaining steel in the lifecycle. Industry has participated actively from the very start. “We have selected projects from the perspective of industrial, environmental, and innovation — i.e. knowledge-producing — value. While approaching the next phase of the programme we have performed a review and evaluation together with industry representatives that showed that they want to pursue the 11 projects we are implementing further, and even expand them. They expect that the researchers will produce results that are useful for them," says Andersson.

Useful models
Under the next phase, the research will focus on developing models and prototypes that can be applied in the industry. “We are producing much better calculation models and more cutting-edge knowledge in the environmental field than we have previously. The research has been successful and some of our results are already being used," he says.

One strategic impact of the programme is that all of the participants learn from each other. “We have both cross-cutting project groups where all of the projects and industries concerned are represented and special meetings where all of the project leaders gather. And we always have a chairperson from industry, to ensure that the focus remains on research that is useful for the industry and the environment," says Göran Andersson.


Mistra has provided 42 million Swedish Crowns in financing for the Steel Eco-Cycle research programme from 2004 through 2008.

Industry has provided 32 million Swedish Crowns for the same period.

In June 2008 Mistra´s Board of Directors approved an additional 55 million Swedish Crowns to finance the programme through a second four-year phase.

Industry will contribute matching funds.

The research programme is a cooperative effort between Swedish companies in four industrial branches — mining, steel, manufacturing and recycling industries — as well as research institutes, colleges and universities.

Mistra Mistra