Scrap consumption grows, steel output recovery after 2025

“Green” steelmaking was a key theme of this week’s Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) ferrous webinar.

Renate Featherstone, Principal Analyst – Multi-Commodity Research at Wood Mackenzie, explained that steelmaking accounts for as much as 10% of global carbon emissions. Producers are therefore under mounting pressure to adopt an environmentally cleaner approach.

“The first logical step to reducing emissions when demand is growing is to recycle and reuse all available scrap,” she stated in the webinar monitored by Kallanish. “Only when we maximise scrap use do we significantly reduce overall virgin iron production and get emissions closer to government targets. This is why scrap is so important.”

Although integrated steelmaking “…will remain the main source of steel in China over the next two decades,” Featherstone predicted, electric furnaces’ share in global steelmaking could rise to 30% by 2026. This could then grow to 34-35% by 2040, potentially heading as high as 52% outside of China and India in two decades from now.

Featherstone said global crude steel production was likely to take “…at least five years” to recover to 2019 levels. Demand in China is forecast to fall only -1% in 2020, “…much better than people thought at the beginning of the year.” A slump of -16% is anticipated for the rest of the world.

George Adams of US-based scrap merchant SA Recycling contended that the scrap use hike projected by Featherstone would apply significant downward pressure on iron ore prices. This could encourage iron ore’s use in steelmaking.

Zain Nathani of the Nathani Group, meanwhile, acknowledged that some of India’s leading steelmakers had been exporting substantial tonnages of semis to China during the lockdown. However, he believed this was unlikely to develop into a long-term trend.

The huge environmental contribution of the ferrous scrap recycling industry was further stressed by BIR divisional Statistics Advisor Rolf Willeke. An estimated 630 million tonnes of steel scrap are recycled every year, preventing nearly 950mt of annual CO2 emissions that would have come from the production of virgin steel. This also saves energy and conserves natural resources, he pointed out.

Although Turkey remained the world’s leading steel scrap importer in 2019, its overseas purchases fell -8.7% on-year to 18.86mt, Willeke observed. India took second place with a 11.4% rise to 7.05mt. Also last year, the EU-28 remained the world’s leading steel scrap exporter, growing its outbound shipments by 0.6% to 21.79mt, whereas global external steel scrap trade – including internal EU-28 trade – dropped -5.8% to 100.4mt.