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“Steel and the circular economy”

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Karen Mitchell.

Steel production accounts for 25% of global industrial emissions. Steel is the most recycled material, and there is optimism that a “steel circular economy,” where end-of-life scrap is used for the next generation of products, will result in significant emissions reductions. However, steel scrap is often contaminated with other elements, most notably copper, which cause metallurgical problems and cannot be removed from the melt commercially. Thus, end-of-life steel is recycled to lower quality, tolerant applications – not “circularly.” To understand the constraints contamination places on steel recycling, copper was characterized in the global steel system. From a survey of literature data and projections for scrap supply and steel demand by sector, current and future quantities of copper entering the system were estimated and compared with the quantity of copper that could be tolerated by demanded products. The results show that quantities of copper arising from conventional scrap preparation can be managed in the global steel system until 2040-2050, but present strategies of dilution and down-cycling will become increasingly inefficient. Technical and policy interventions to support a closed steel loop will be presented, including an analysis (in progress) of all the ways copper could be chemically removed from the steel melt and the energy requirements of these processes, thus informing the feasibility and emissions-saving potential of a “circular economy.”

This talk is part of the Engineering Department Structures Research Seminars series.

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