The Australian steel industry produces in excess of eight million tonnes of steel per year, and including all of its steelmaking, manufacturing and distribution activities has a turnover of circa $30 billion and employs over 90,000 people earning in excess of $4.5 billion in wages.

Long-term sustainability has become a focal point across Australian infrastructure and construction, and an emphasis has been placed on reaching carbon neutrality in these areas.

Steel being one of the world’s most popular materials in the construction industry, is used widely from the manufacturing of cars and appliances, through to the building of bridges and large multi-story structures. The components that are used to produce steel are recyclable therefore it is a valued contributor towards sustainability today and for future generations to come.

The primary source of steel is iron ore which is one of the most abundant minerals in nature with known global reserves of 800 billion tonnes or about 400 years’ supply at current usage rates of 1.8 billion tonnes a year (according to recent International Iron and Steel Institute (IISI) figures on ore consumption).

Ore bodies are found in many parts of the world but their iron content varies considerably, ranging from less than 30 percent in parts of Europe and China to more than 60 percent in Australia and Brazil. Higher iron content requires less energy per iron unit to transport and generates lower volumes of slag in the smelting process and consequently is in high demand.

Scrap or recycled steel is a major secondary source of steel, in fact in excess of 35% of world steel production is from recycled materials. Steel can be recycled over and over whilst still maintaining its properties and qualities.

Steel made from scrap uses less than half the amount of energy per tonne of steel produced and essentially involves melting scrap steel in an electric arc furnace.

Reducing energy and (GHG) Green House Gases emissions is a priority for the steel industry worldwide, the aim is to reduce costs and improve environmental performance. In the past 40 years the industry worldwide has developed energy saving technologies such as continuous casting along with the basic oxygen steelmaking process.

A significant reduction in GHG is also being achieved through the turning of what were once waste products into valuable byproducts. About 80 percent of Australia’s blast furnace slag is now used as cement substitute in concrete making and about 60 percent of the steelmaking slag is now used as road base to replace quarried materials.

Steel’s lightness, strength and durability make it a material of choice for construction and many other applications. These qualities improve the environmental performance of buildings, structures, automobiles and many other applications.

Using steel in construction has benefits right from the planning stages of a project. Its great strength to weight ratio produces a lighter structure that minimises foundation work and the excavation and earthworks involved.  As the project evolves, steel can be pre fabricated off-site at the manufacturers premises and delivered to the site as required. Additional benefits include onsite assembly and the elimination of disposal of waste, contributing to a better environment.

A steel-supported building can also be relocated at a fraction of the energy and GHG emission cost of demolition and new construction. Steel is the ideal material for this type of design and there are many examples of its use in this way. The Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre had an extra stand added for the Games and was designed so that it could be moved to Wollongong as stadium seating afterwards. The same principle was adopted for whole stadiums being built for the 2012 London Olympics.

Steel’s ability to be recycled multiple times into new steel products is one of its main unrivalled sustainability virtues and being measured in tonnes, it is without question the most recycled material in the world.

(Sources and acknowledgment to, IISI, ABS and ASI)

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