Three deals for UK steel: carbon neutral, virtual factories, and ‘super steel’

Steel is the most commonly used structural material in the world, and the UK's steel industry contributes around £1.6bn to the economy. Here are three of the latest deals for UK steel that aim to make the 150-year old industry leaner and greener.

A carbon neutral steel industry

The UK steel industry employs 32,000 people - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The UK steel industry employs 32,000 people – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The concept of a carbon neutral steel industry may seem at first an unrealistic one.

The £35m SUSTAIN programme has been launched by over twenty partners across the UK steel industry, including companies, trade bodies, research organisations and academic experts, in order to make this concept a reality.

SUSTAIN aims to double the gross added value of UK steel manufacturers by 2030, increasing the number of jobs to 35,000 and boosting productivity by 15%.

The process of 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.

To meet these aims, SUSTAIN will investigate new ways of harnessing new energy sources, capturing carbon emissions and reprocessing industrial waste streams. The programme envisions that the industry will reach zero-waste and carbon-neutral status by 2040.

Speeding up innovation with a ‘virtual factory’

Dr James McGettrick of Swansea University conducts chemical analysis on steel.
Dr James McGettrick of Swansea University conducts chemical analysis on steel.

Immersive technologies are being integrated into many businesses to enhance entire operations.

This is being put to the test for the steel sector in a “virtual factory” that could fast-track innovation in the industry.

The introduction of a virtual steel factory could enable developing and testing of new steel alloys to be reportedly up to 100-times faster, allowing new products to reach the market at pace.

Known as rapid alloy prototyping, it combines physical testing and computational modelling to swiftly assess hundreds of small-scale samples, covering areas including strength, electrical and mechanical properties, durability and resistance to corrosion.

Funding worth £7m was announced for the virtual factory to be developed by Swansea University, in partnership with Tata Steel and WMG, at the University of Warwick.

UK steel industry…

  • The UK steel industry employs 32,000 people
  • The UK steel industry comprises 600 businesses
  • The UK steel industry contributes £1.6bn to the economy
  • Compared to the 1970s, many jobs in today’s steel industry are highly skilled and command greater salaries, but fewer people are required overall
  • Steel produces 25% of global industrial emissions, or 6%-10% of total global emissions

International steel and industrials Group, Liberty has launched a multi-million pound programme to develop a new generation of powder metals aimed at transforming component manufacturing.

The UK steel industry contributes £1.6bn to the economy - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The UK steel industry contributes £1.6bn to the economy – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Liberty will be developing a new generation of powdered steels that reportedly contain properties that overcome the barriers to 3D printing found in existing powder metals.

According to the Group, the world market for powder metals is estimated to be £8bn a year, but the application of powders for 3D printing is still in its early phases.

Its ambition is to establish a £60m powder metal production plant in Teesside, which will feed a network of advanced manufacturers and help to make the UK an international leader in the manufacture of powder metals.

Dr Simon Pike, Liberty’s technical director said, “Currently available powder is limited to stainless steel and tool steel which is high-cost and not that suitable for the additive manufacturing process, so we will be developing a new generation of powder alloys with finer grains that provide better mechanical properties making them stronger, tougher and more formable, as well as being ideal for 3D printing.”

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