|Electric Arc Furnace, image courtesy of Made in China|
Steel is integral to industrial societiesSteel is used in so many applications, from consumer uses like cars, through to heavy duty industrial application such as reinforcing for concrete. Indeed, it is so pervasive that it could be said to define the current era. All of this means that there are a great many buyers each looking to use it in any number of applications. The market drives this.
Translating to other materials, it is vital to let markets drive recycling, a point I return to over and over. Recycling without a market is just another form of waste disposal. Markets thrive where there is competition, and so developing a myriad of uses for the materials within waste will encourage its recycling.
Steel from scrap is high quality and uses less energy to make than from iron ore
It always helps if product generated from recycled material is of high quality. It especially helps if there are energy savings (though these tend to net out through pricing of scrap steel when compared with other raw materials such as iron ore).
Sometimes these attributes are inherent in the product. Steel, aluminium and glass all recycle into high quality products using less energy. Sometimes it is a decision made by the recycler. In deciding how to sort for materials, the quality of the end product is determined. Failing to remove steel (ie nails) from timber recycling plants means that the chip cannot be used for particle board manufacture.
Steel is a cornerstone of the American economy
The point here is similar but different to my first. Being linked into the dynamic, innovative American economy means that there will always be a seething mass of engineers and entrepreneurs looking to do better. This is one of the great features of the American culture, and why America recycles more than 80% of its steel, far better than any other economy.
Other materials have a great prospect if they too can hitch their wagon to a culture of innovation. You can imagine, for instance, palladium's use in electronics driving all sorts of recovery innovation. This will be the subject of a future blog.
Steel is easily extracted
Being magnetic, it is easy to remove steel. Similar processes can and are being invented for other products, but here is where materials processing engineers with some lateral thinking could be game changers. We need to support this, encourage it, drive it.
Steel is dense and easily transported
There is a lot of cost in moving space around. If you can get a lot of weight into that space, then you are increasing the transport efficiency. Less dense materials can be made more dense through compactors, and this must be (and is) a first step for any recycling operations.
|Waste paper baler, photo courtesy of Alibaba|
Steel is high value
Leaving perhaps the most important to last - steel has a value that is high and preserved as it moves through the economy. This enables a vast web of collectors consolidating to larger and larger entities, all profitable in their own right. The ecosystem thus created is vital. Container deposit schemes seek to create the same system of cascading value through legislation. Not as good as a natural market, but sometimes these sorts of steps are needed. Any long term recycling and upcycling venture must be financially worthwhile for all participants.
So my thoughts. I'd be keen for comments on how the success of scrap steel can be, and is being, translated to other materials.