Steel life cycle

Steel is the most recycled material in the world and can be recycled indefinitely without losing its properties. Due to its durability, steel products have a long useful life and can often be recycled and used in other applications, thus saving resources. SSAB aims to reduce the environmental impact of its steel products in every phase of the lifecycle, from raw material extraction to recycling at the end of a product’s life.

Steel life cycle

1. Responsibility in raw material sourcing

SSAB has a large number of suppliers in different parts of the world. Raw materials used in iron and steel production are our most significant purchases. SSAB purchases iron ore pellets from the Swedish supplier, and a smaller share from the Russian supplier.

2. Efficient steel production

Two different processes are used in the production of SSAB’s steels: iron ore-based production in blast furnaces in Sweden and Finland, and scrap-based production
in electric arc furnaces in the US. Even though the efficiency of our Nordic blast furnaces is already among the world’s top performers, we are constantly looking for opportunities to improve. Industry-wide cooperation is important for continuously improving the technology available to reduce emissions. CO2 emissions originating in production in electric arc furnaces are less than 10% of the emissions generated from iron ore-based steel production.

3. Recirculation of residuals in steel production

Whenever possible, residuals generated in the iron- and steel-making process are recirculated in steel production processes to substitute virgin raw materials.
Most of the dust created in the blast furnace-based steel-making process is returned to the process. This results in decreased waste volumes and increased material efficiency. Recycled steel reduces the environmental footprint during the end-product’s lifecycle. It replaces the iron ore as input material in the steel production process. Also energy flows created are recovered back to the production process.

Not all residuals can be recirculated in the steel production process. In some cases new revenue streams are created by processing and selling by-products externally. The material flows from production that cannot be recirculated or sold externally are sent to landfill. The residuals are recycled internally or processed into by-products and sold externally, and new areas of use as alternatives to depositing in landfills are continuously under development.

4. Resource-efficient product manufacture

High-strength steels are stronger than ordinary standard steels. Withstanding any given physical load requires less high-strength steel than would be the case using standard steels. Consequently, designs that use high-strength steels are lighter and weight savings can be achieved. A higher yield strength can give weight savings of up to 30% for parts that have been upgraded.

In addition, the quantities of steel material involved in the end-product’s manufacturing process, as well as the resources used in steel production (iron ore, alloying elements, carbon and energy) are also similarly reduced. In close collaboration with customers, product design can increase the environmental and cost benefits enabled by the use of high-strength steels.

5. Stronger, lighter and more sustainable world

Through the use of high-strength steels, customers are able to manufacture products, which use less material, are stronger, lighter and provide improved total economy. For energy using applications the use phase carries a significant share of the lifecycle environmental footprint.

The most beneficial weight reductions can be found in applications such as load handling equipment. In many cases, the reduction in emissions due to decreased weight can exceed the emissions originating in the steel production processes when calculated over the entire lifecycle of an end-product.

6. Recyclability of steel

As the world’s most recycled industrial material, steel is unique in that it retains its properties no matter how many times it is recycled. Using recycled steel scrap in steel production saves natural resources, while also reducing CO emissions. However, there is currently not enough scrap to meet the demand for steel and thus primary steel needs to be produced from iron ore also in the future.

SSAB’s mills in the US produce steel based exclusively on recycled steel. Small amounts of coal and natural gas are used in the production process, but mainly electricity is used for smelting the scrap. All in all, CO2 emissions are less than one tenth of the emissions generated in conjunction with iron ore-based steel production. SSAB uses approximately 20% of scrap metal in conjunction with steel production in Sweden and Finland, and 100% in the US.