Domestic steel and aluminum producers consider “going green” a high priority—not just for altruistic reasons, but because it makes good business sense. While they have already made significant progress in becoming better stewards of their environment, mill executives say they intend to continue pushing the envelope as far as technology allows.
“We are a very energy-intensive industry,” says Brett Smith, senior director of government relations for the American Iron and Steel Institute in Washington, D.C. “It takes a lot of energy to make steel, so getting increased energy efficiency is the right thing to do for a number of reasons. It makes sense, not only from an environmental perspective but an economic perspective, as well.”
When steelmakers are more efficient, they consume less energy, and consuming less energy has a positive impact on their bottom line, says Eric J. Stuart, vice president of environment and energy for the Steel Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C.
“Up to this point, there haven’t been regulations on the reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But many companies realize that by reducing the amount of energy they are consuming, they are also reducing their greenhouse gas emissions,” Stuart says.
For companies represented by SMA—the minimills that remelt steel scrap in giant electric arc furnaces—energy usage is a particularly large part of the cost of steel production. They are continually looking for ways to reduce their power need, and at the same time reduce the demand they are putting on the region’s electrical grid, he adds.
Aluminum, another very energy-intensive industry, has also spent an inordinate amount of time and resources to improve its energy efficiency and reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, says Charles Johnson, vice president of environment, health and safety for the Aluminum Association in Arlington, Va.
The environmental accomplishments of big aluminum and steel are all the more notable considering they were largely proactive, rather than forced by government legislation or regulation.
The domestic steel industry has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions (largely carbon dioxide) by 35 percent and increased its energy efficiency by about 30 percent since 1990. That is 240 percent of the Kyoto protocol, an international climate change agreement calling for an annual GHG reduction of 5 percent from 2008-2012, says Christopher Plummer, managing director of Metal Strategies Inc., West Chester, Pa.
Meanwhile, the aluminum industry has sharply reduced primary production, while stepping up secondary production or aluminum recycling. Since 1992, the industry has reduced primary production by more than 80 percent. During the same time period, the primary aluminum industry has become 17 percent more energy efficient, while the secondary aluminum industry has become 59 percent more energy efficient. “These are great industrial efficiency gains, especially in the current climate where energy costs and production dominate so much of the political discussion,” Johnson says.