The success of the US steel industry comes down to investment and location management, whereas Europe has fallen behind in this regard. With electric arc furnace-based flat steelmaking capacity growing, competition will increase for prime grade scrap, which mills in the US South will start importing. So says Turkish Flat Steel Import, Export and Industry Association (Yisad) chairman Tayfun Iseri.
US mills have reinvested bumper profits into building 10 million tonnes/year of EAF capacity in the last five years. They have taken obsolete blast furnaces offline and invested into EAFs amid the push for decarbonisation. Europe has meanwhile fallen behind, implementing improvements to existing production processes rather than greenfield investments, according to Iseri.
While most BFs were built in the Midwest and Great Lakes areas, the new EAFs have been built in the South. Midwest/Great Lakes BF capacity shrunk from 44.5m t/y in 2019 to 39.6mt in 2023, while EAF capacity in the South rose from 34.8mt to 38.3mt. This will result in reduced US scrap exports.
“Most EAF investments in the US are coming from flat steel. You need better scrap for this. Higher knowhow, better raw material. Everything is possible in an EAF. If somebody tells you it’s not possible, it is possible!” Iseri told delegates at Kallanish Steel Scrap 2024 in Istanbul on Thursday.
While prime grade scrap competition will increase, local generation will decrease amid consumers holding onto their cars for longer, and car ownership reducing in general. Mills in the South will therefore import the required scrap through Gulf of Mexico ports, Iseri continued.
Increasing Mexican EAF capacity will also compete with US mills for scrap supply, which will lift prices. Meanwhile, “Europe is not ready to consume its prime scrap yet”, so will continue to export material, Iseri noted.
Overall, the US and EU will continue generating more scrap than they can consume, meaning export restrictions are unlikely to be implemented, as “they can’t sit on this big pile of scrap”, he added.
Iseri also challenged the assertion that Turkey dictates scrap prices. Since US mills have bought out multiple scrap collectors, they control 60% of the US scrap market. “The US dictates what the price will be,” he concluded.
Adam Smith Poland
“Will scrap be the new gold?” asked Turkish Flat Steel Import, Export and Industry Association (Yisad) chairman Tayfun Iseri. “I’m not sure.” Technological innovation will see alternatives developed to scrap in future, he predicted.
Decarbonisation and CBAM, meanwhile, are just new means of “protecting their own”, he said in reference to EU authorities. In the past, the EU has levied anti-dumping or countervailing duties, but “this will be thrown out of the window” after the huge subsidies being given to EU steelmakers to decarbonise, Iseri added.
“I think protectionism is self-defeating,” observed Marcel Genet, founder and president of consultancy Laplace Conseil. “What we forget is that if we don’t do something with steel, the product has no value.”
He emphasised scrap trade restrictions are unlikely. “It’s pure nonsense for countries to limit trade when it is more efficient to do it in one place than the other,” he noted. “Turkey is not trying to steal scrap from the EU or US. They are very nice to create an outlet for countries that do not have capacity to consume their own scrap.”
Moreover, monthly price negotiations between scrap suppliers and steelmakers must be scrapped and all parties should work towards the goal of maximising steel recycling, he added.
“Regulation will not move needle, the scrap industry itself will. More scrap will be kept in Europe, knowing that demand for it is increasing. So yes, there will be less available for Turkey but it is not regulation that will cause it,” said McKinsey senior expert Steven Vercammen.
Turkey’s dependence on scrap imports is a big problem, meanwhile. The country must “reengineer its capacities and type of steel it is producing,” noted Muammer Bilgic, managing director of Bilecik Demir Celik. CBAM and environmental regulations will hit Turkish steelmakers, with its integrated mills likely to soon lose competitiveness.
Scrap shortages are unlikely to be a problem in the next ten years, Iseri observed. China could enter the scrap export market, while consumption of steel will decline in the coming decades. Car owners are holding onto their vehicles for longer, and car ownership in general is decreasing. “That’s why I’m saying scrap may not be the new gold,” he concluded.
Adam Smith Poland