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British Steel has unveiled ambitious plans for the biggest transformation in its history – a £1.25-billion proposal to become a clean, green and sustainable business by adopting electric arc furnace steelmaking.
Following detailed analysis of its current operations, available technology and challenging market conditions, the company is proposing to accelerate its decarbonisation programme.
The proposals, which are subject to appropriate support from the UK Government, could see British Steel install 2 electric arc furnaces (EAFs) – the first at its headquarters in Scunthorpe, the second at its manufacturing site in Teesside.
The new furnaces could be operational by late 2025 and would replace the aging iron and steelmaking operations in Scunthorpe which are responsible for the vast majority of the company’s CO2 emissions. The company proposes maintaining current operations until a transition to electric arc steelmaking.
British Steel has started preliminary talks with trade unions about electrification, and has promised to support employees affected by the decarbonisation plans. It has agreed for its proposals to be reviewed by an external specialist on behalf of the trade unions.
The company is also working with North Lincolnshire Council on a masterplan to attract new businesses and jobs to the Scunthorpe site, parts of which could become vacant if the proposals go ahead.
British Steel CEO and President, Xijun Cao, said: “Decarbonisation is a major challenge for our business but we are committed to manufacturing the home-made, low-embedded carbon steel the UK needs.
“We have engaged extensively with the public and private sector to understand the feasibility of producing net zero steel with our current blast furnace operations. However, thorough analysis shows this is not viable.
“Detailed studies show electrification could rapidly accelerate our journey to net zero and drive British Steel towards a sustainable future. It would also ensure we can provide our customers with the steel they require.
“Our owners, Jingye, have already invested £330 million in British Steel in just 3 years and they’re committed to the unprecedented investment our proposals require.”
British Steel unveiled its Low-Carbon Roadmap in October 2021, pledging to invest in a range of technologies to deliver net-zero steel by 2050, and significantly reduce its CO2 intensity by 2030 and 2035. However, the company is now proposing to accelerate its decarbonisation journey with the potential new operating structure able to reduce its CO2 intensity by around 75 per cent.
Xijun said: “Our desire to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, coupled with current market conditions, means we can’t wait and need to transform our business as quickly as possible. And while decarbonisation will not happen overnight, it’s imperative we take swift and decisive action to ensure a sustainable future for British Steel.
“We studied having one large electric arc furnace based in Scunthorpe, one which was capable of manufacturing all of the steel we require for our rolling mills in the Humber and the North East. However, such a large furnace would require a new National Grid connection and it is anticipated this would not be available until 2034. We therefore believe the most viable and timely option is to have 2 smaller furnaces which combine to produce the volumes of steel we require.”
British Steel has conducted feasibility studies into introducing EAFs to Scunthorpe and Teesside, and discussed the potential changes to its operations with North Lincolnshire Council, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and the Tees Valley Combined Authority. Because of the need to decarbonise its operations at pace, and the planning processes required, the company expects to shortly be submitting Environmental Impact Assessments to the relevant authorities. This would enable British Steel to meet appropriate timeframes should it decide to press ahead with the proposals and it be successful in securing planning approvals.
Xijun said: “It is prudent to evaluate different operational scenarios to help us achieve our goals and we are continuing to assess our options. However, we firmly believe electrification will provide a rapid and sustainable solution to our decarbonisation challenge in addition to providing support for sustainable employment.
“We are confident our proposals will help secure the low-embedded carbon steelmaking the UK requires now and for decades to come. However, we need the UK to adopt the correct policies and frameworks now to back our decarbonisation drive. Governments in the countries where our major competitors operate have adopted such policies and the longer we wait for their implementation in the UK, the more impact and challenge this will have on our competitiveness and the country's ability to meet its carbon objectives.
“We remain in talks with the government and, with its support, are committed to making the steel Britain needs for generations to come.”
Published: 6th November 2023.
At British Steel, we're committed to sustainable steelmaking. Steel is vital to modern economies and over the coming decades, global demand is expected to grow to meet rising social and economic welfare needs.
As the world’s most recycled material, steel plays a central role in transitioning to a low-carbon, circular economy. Reviewing our processes and investing in new technology will boost our contribution to significant decarbonisation.
LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT
Steel from the blast furnace route can be easily recycled through the Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) or Basic Oxygen Steelmaking (BOS) route later in its life. In this way a symbiosis between the world’s 2 leading steelmaking routes exists.
Our Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for rail, sections and semi-finished long products includes the future benefit of the 100% recyclability of steel in the form of a module D assessment. Downstream uses of the British Steel EPD should use module D when evaluating steel products to reflect the unique properties of steel as a ‘multi-generational’ material and a material fully embedded in circular economy thinking.
SUPPORTING YOUR SCOPE 1 EMISSION REDUCTIONS
Steel is a fast, safe construction material. Steel frames can be manufactured offsite in a safe factory environment. Reducing assembly time on site (7% to 15% less) means lower costs and less disruption to the local community.
Steel construction products can help deliver reductions in scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions for the construction sector.
Through research and development, our innovative S460M structural steel grade can offer a much reduced weight, offering an embedded carbon reduction for your building project.
There is generally no site waste, but any that occurs can be returned to the steel supply chain and multi-cycled. Due to the strength of steel, buildings can be designed with long spans to offer flexible design solutions and extended life.
PROCESS GASES: REDUCED USE OF NATURAL GAS
At our Scunthorpe site, we generate process gases as by-products of blast furnace ironmaking and basic oxygen steelmaking. The priority is to maximise the use of process gases as fuel for other combustion processes within the site, such as steel re-heating prior to hot rolling and steam raising. In this way, we can avoid the import of other fuels such as natural gas and propane.
We use the methodology from the international standard ISO 14021 to measure and assess the recycled content of our steel products. Maximising recycled content decreases our scope 1 emissions. At present 25% to 30% is the maximum recycled content achievable through the BOS route.
In the table below we present our recycled content figures for 2020, 2021 and 2022:
Our customers recognise the benefits of sustainable development, both in meeting government guidelines, and improving social and environmental performance.
British Steel is certified to a good rating for the Environmental and Sustainability Standard BES 6001 Responsible Sourcing of Products, meaning our customers can be confident they are working with a supplier who is committed to sustainability and that it is embedded into our company ethos.
Through this external validation, customers are able to benchmark our performance and demonstrate they are sourcing products from a responsible supplier. Designers and developers use our products in the knowledge that they can secure additional credits under sustainability schemes, such as BREEAM, BREEAM Infrastructure (previously CEEQUAL) and LEED.
The certification covers our Teesside, Scunthorpe and Skinningrove sites, where we manufacture rail, sections, wire rod, special profiles and semi-finished products.
SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS: HIGHER STRENGTH AND DURABILITY
Our dedicated New Product Development and Research & Development teams tailor the properties of steel to offer sustainable solutions.
For example, our industry award-winning HP335 rail delivers energy-efficient transportation of people and goods. Extended in-service monitoring shows track life can be more than doubled while also reducing maintenance requirements. In addition to the safety, cost and environmental benefits, using HP335 means greater network availability, delivering increased and better service on rail networks. Our portfolio of rail products can ensure the appropriate grade is utilised in the correct application to optimise rail life and performance, hence supporting a lower carbon transport network.
Our customers strive to optimise the life of machinery, while making it safer, more cost-effective and more energy efficient. Innovations such as higher strength crane rail offer better durability in service with the potential to use lighter sections, reducing installation and transport costs.
LOCAL SOURCING: REDUCED TRANSPORT EMISSIONS
By working with us, our customers positively influence the carbon footprint of their supply chain.
Steel transported within the UK produces 50% less CO2 than steel sections sourced from the EU. Supply routes can offer total emissions of less than 10kg CO2 per tonne of steel in some cases – 4 times less than steel sourced from mainland Europe. The average distance UK manufactured steel sections are transported to our customers is less than 150km.
RESOURCE USE AND WASTE MANAGEMENT
Integrated steelmaking requires large amounts of raw materials such as iron ore and coal. It’s vital that we continue to optimise our consumption of these raw materials by minimising waste and ensuring that our by-products meet tight quality control requirements so that they can be used in other industry sectors. As a result of continued improvements in material management, well over 90% of all residue material produced across the site is subject to internal recirculation or external recovery / recycling.
Our most significant by-product is blast furnace slag. This is a valuable raw material for the concrete and construction industry, where it is used as a clinker substitute, thus reducing mineral extraction and CO2 emissions further.
Steelmaking slag is used extensively in civil engineering and agricultural applications.
In addition, iron and steelmaking slags sequester atmospheric CO2 through natural processes. Even after the manufacturing process, our by-products can help to off-set CO2 emissions.
In line with British Steel’s objective to reduce waste to landfill, we’ve enacted a number of waste reduction strategies at our Scunthorpe site. Applying the waste hierarchy, we encourage re-use of materials such as scale and gas-cleaning residues within site processes.
A wide range of technologies such as oxide briquettes, hydro-cyclones, re-use of oily residues and de-watering facilities have been implemented to recover materials back into the process.
The impacts associated with the transportation of our raw materials to our manufacturing sites, delivery of our products to customers, and business travel are relatively small when set against the footprint of our manufacturing operations.
Nevertheless, we have an environmental policy commitment to reduce the environmental impact of our operations and products through the adoption of sustainable practices. For this reason, we seek to measure our transport impacts and to progressively reduce them.
A series of strategies have been developed to deliver this objective, for example:
Enacting shift from road to rail. Optimise weight of load where this is not possible
Link outward journeys with return legs to minimise empty running rate
Improve the efficiency of the contracted and subcontracted haulage fleet
At our Scunthorpe site we’re currently achieving best practice with regards to water consumption at an integrated steelworks and, as such, can be considered to be a steel industry benchmark in this area.
Consumption per tonne of steel manufactured is below that associated with the application of best available techniques (BAT) according to the EU’s BAT reference document for iron and steel.
BOS: Basic Oxygen Steelmaking involves making steel through oxidation by injecting oxygen through a lance above a molten mixture of liquid iron and scrap steel
EAF: an Electric Arc Furnace melts steel scrap using the heat generated by a high power electric arc. During the melting process, elements are added to achieve the correct chemistry and oxygen is blown into the furnace to purify the steel
Module D: an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products
Scope 1: Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources
Scope 2: Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy
Scope 3: Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the reporting company