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8 February 2013

Convincing results from Steel Eco-Cycle research

The Steel Eco-Cycle research programme has made great strides towards environmental sustainability for the steel industry. A range of concrete results were presented at the final seminar in November. Almost all of them have been tested on an industrial scale, and several are commercially interesting.

Mistra’s eight-year research programme Steel Eco-Cycle (full name: Towards a Closed Steel Eco-Cycle) is now complete. At the closing seminar in late 2012, key lessons from the programme were identified and discussed. Steel Eco-Cycle has striven to develop smart methods of minimising resource use in steel production, and to reuse scrap and by-products. Some 40 representatives of steel companies, the recycling industry, academia and research institutes, the Swedish Steel Producers’ Association and Mistra attended the seminar.

Göran Andersson is the programme director of Steel Eco-Cycle. What was the most important fact to emerge from the seminar?
‘It’s that almost all its results have undergone large-scale industrial testing, and several are viable commercial prospects. It’s remarkable that such major research advances have been achieved in as short a time as eight years.’

What research advances has Steel Eco-Cycle contributed to?
‘One is laser technology for analysing steel scrap. We’ve also developed technologies for alloys and metallurgical processing to boost the quantity of metals that can be recovered in the course of steel production. So more now goes into the steel and less into the slag, making resource use more efficient. Then we’ve devised a new technique for extracting metals like vanadium and manganese from the slag. These metals can be used for producing new steel, and the slag then has a higher value for recycling in the construction or cement industry.’

What did you find surprising during work on the programme?
‘The most surprising thing is the great environmental improvements that arise if conventional steels are replaced by today’s advanced new steels. Since these are stronger and more durable, there are substantial gains in the form of materials and natural resources that can be saved. For example, vehicles can be lighter and cranes can lift more with less steel in their structure. Quite simply, you get more out of less. The new steels are already in use, but there are great savings to be made here if they’re introduced on a larger scale. This calls for knowledgeable users. Standards don’t keep up with the rapid evolution of steel and are an obstacle.’

One of the researchers who have been involved in Steel Eco-Cycle is Guozhu Ye, a doctor of engineering at Swerea MEFOS, the steel research institute.

What is your experience of research in Steel Eco-Cycle?
‘I’ve been in the research community for a long time, and Mistra’s procedures are outstanding. The international expert group that evaluated our project when we applied, and has reviewed it at each stage, is amazingly proficient.’

Guozhu Ye headed the Vanadium Recovery project. In 2011 he received the Swedish Recycling Industries’ ‘inspiration prize’ for a ‘simple but ingenious’ method of recovering vanadium from steel slag.

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna
A longer account of Steel Eco-Cycle will be included in Mistra’s Annual Review, to be published in spring 2013.

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