£35m research network to SUSTAIN UK steel industry

The vision of a smart, clean, green steel industry has come one step closer to fruition with the announcement of a new £35m initiative which will see steelmakers and universities work together on a seven-year research programme to transform the sector.

 Swansea University Bay Campus, with Tata Steel Port Talbot across the bay - International evidence shows that success in steel comes from having research and industry located close to each other – image courtesy of Swansea University.

Swansea University Bay Campus, with Tata Steel Port Talbot across the bay – International evidence shows that success in steel comes from having research and industry located close to each other – image courtesy of Swansea University.

The network – dubbed ‘SUSTAIN’ – has been hailed as a significant landmark, representing the first time that UK steel producers, representatives and supporters have coalesced behind a coordinated programme of research and advancement.

It is also the largest ever single investment in steel research by a UK research council – £10m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The objective of SUSTAIN is to reportedly form “a seed from which much wider research and innovation will grow”.

In this way, it hopes to transform the whole steel supply chain, making it “cleaner, greener and smarter, and more responsive to the fast-changing needs of customers”.

Drawing on a multitude of expertise, the network is led by Swansea University, partnered with the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick, and involves more than 20 partners across the UK steel industry including manufacturers, trade bodies, academic experts and research organisations.

SUSTAIN’s work will reportedly be focused on two areas:

Zero waste iron and steelmaking, with the aim of making the industry carbon-neutral by 2040

Steel is already the world’s most recycled material, but the network will investigate new ways of making the industry’s processes and products even greener, such as harvesting untapped energy sources, capturing carbon emissions and re-processing societal and industrial waste streams.

Smart steel processing

Like any 21st century industry, steelmaking involves masses of data. SUSTAIN will develop new ways of acquiring and using this data in new metallurgical processes, which can deliver bespoke high-tech products.

SUSTAIN is projected to:

  • Double UK steel manufacturers’ gross value add (GVA) by 2030
  • Boost jobs in the sector to 35,000 – from 32,000
  • Increase productivity by 15%

Why is steel so important?

Steel is the most widely-used structural material in the world. If a product isn’t made of steel, it’s made using steel.

The metal sits at the very heart of UK manufacturing and engineering, supporting sectors such as automotive, aerospace, packaging and defence.

It is an indispensable component of the UK’s future national construction and infrastructure such as transport, communications and energy, as well as for cutting-edge 21st century industries from energy-positive buildings to wind turbines and electric vehicles.