Metal Recycling: Steel and Solar Power a Symbiotic Relationship Supported by Reshoring & Recycling
Updated: Oct 11
World reduction of carbon emissions relies on many industries doing their part to make a measurable impact toward the goal of 25 Gt CO2e levels by 2030. This goal was estimated by The UNEP Emissions Gap Report in 2021 as the pathway to net zero emissions by mid-century. Two major industries on this mission are the Solar Industry and the Steel Industry, both of which have experienced a heavy reliance on production from China. China holds 80% of the world's polysilicon supply and 50% of steel production. Today, efforts are being made to re-establish domestic production, at least partly to supply the U.S. with the materials and equipment necessary to realize the Inflation Reduction Act and the role the U.S. plays in taking responsibility for dramatic carbon emissions. Kelly Pickerel's subheadline exemplifies this perfectly regarding solar manufacturers, "The silicon solar PV cell was invented in America, yet we now have no hand in its production. How did we let China dominate solar manufacturing?"
While nothing is ever perfect, Solar and Steel are at the heart of an American Story that deserves to be told. Something we can look to for improvement but also be proud of where we stand now and the trajectory.
Significant expansion in the Nanocrystalline Segment is expected to be driven primarily by the steel industry; here’s how this relationship is synergistic.
Steel plants implementing solar
While steel is challenging to decarbonize, efforts abound in the steel industry to reduce the giant fossil fuel needs for production and transition to solar power for renovated plants. Compared to steel production in 1960, it takes 40% less energy to produce now. At this time, the symbiotic relationship between solar and steel is essential. Some solar-powered steel plants are reducing carbon emissions by implementing solar projects.
The EVRAZ steel mill factory in Pueblo, Colorado, has implemented an on-site solar farm to supply 90% of its energy demand. The impact is comparable to removing 92,100 gas-powered cars off the road. At EVRAZ, an electric arc furnace turns ferrous scrap into finished steel. Colorado's largest recycling facility will now be powered by a 300 MW farm with 750,000 solar panels spanning 1,800 acres.
Nucor still production, noted as one of the cleanest steel producers, is also looking toward a net zero emissions goal by reducing their Scope 3 GHG. Nucor already focuses on recycled steel facilities and is looking to expand. In addition, President & CEO Leon Topalian announced a commitment to power facilities with renewable energy.
Steel production reshoring in the U.S.
Another surge in the Steel Industry is reshoring efforts. With China's Zero-COVID policy and supply chain chokeholds, the reshoring of many facilities is a natural outcome. Solar, in particular, is seeing manufacturing plants initiative and those already established, explained here in the U.S. While we're at it, steel is too. Many reshoring efforts are taking place; most recently, the Nextracker & BCI partnership announced earlier in 2022 to re-establish the abandoned still manufacturing plant in the historic Bethlehem Steel manufacturing factory in nearby Leetsdale. The plant will produce solar tracker equipment for large-scale solar power plants. The Energy of Security Jeniffer Granholm supported this particular partnership and launch.
The new steel processing plant will incorporate both BCI Steel's new and restored equipment from their factories in Malaysia and Brazil. Solar tracker equipment produced at the factory will serve rapidly growing solar markets in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, and Ohio.
These measures and an expanding economy helped the domestic steel industry operate at 81.1% of rated capacity in 2021, the highest level since 2007. Domestic steel prices registered record highs throughout 2021 and remain high relative to prices abroad.
The steel recycling rate is one of the highest in North America at 88% Steel has the highest recycling rate compared to some of the most recycled materials, paper, aluminum, and glass. In the U.S., more than 60% of raw steel comes from recycled “ferrous” scrap. Using scrap to make new steel helps conserve natural resources and energy and reduces emissions. In addition, about 95% of the water used for making steel in the U.S. is recycled.
The European Parliament recently produced a report to explore the process for moving toward a commitment to Zero Steel, which translates to net zero emissions for steel production. The Climate Group, an international non-profit, in partnership with Responsible Steel, have announced a goal for ZeroSteel, which is 100% net zero steel by 2050 and, in the interim, procuring 50% net zero steel by 2030.
In the solar industry, three different types of steel are used High Strength Low Alloy, Structural Grades, and most commonly Hot Dip Galvanized (HDG) is used. HDG Steel is highly recyclable and recycled. According to the American Galvanizers Association, “when it comes to the end of life for a hot-dip galvanized steel project, there are three options available – none of which include the landfill.”
Depleting metal reserves gives great cause for the Solar Industry to take a leading role in the metal recycling market. Steel is one of those metals to get familiar with and commit to its recycling. The carbon footprint of recycled steel is 5X less than that of virgin steel, and recycling steel helps to preserve natural resources.
“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”
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