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Dust turns to steel

ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe has a dedicated department for handling environmental and climate protection matters as well as quality and sustainability management, which is headed by Andreas Theuer. In the following interview, Theuer discusses the company’s ecological activities and the energy efficiency inherent to steel.

How does ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe implement its declared company goals of energy efficiency and sustainability?

Andreas Theuer: One of the best examples of how these goals are implemented is our integrated steel mill concept. With this, all energy arising from production is consistently recycled. The process gases are used for heat and power generation. Our internal district heating system provides heating to all our on-site buildings purely from waste heat. We also feed our heat into the Niederrhein district heating system, which supplies around 20,000 households. Processes such as these have grown considerably over the decades and they’re still being improved today. For our Duisburg location, this means we’re almost completely self-sufficient in terms of energy.

Nevertheless, steel production requires a lot of energy. Is it possible to further reduce process-related CO2 emissions?

If we want to achieve significant further reductions, we really need to develop new technologies. That’s one of the main areas we are currently researching. The options for lowering emissions during production have largely been exploited.

What are the characteristics of steel that contribute to a more eco-friendly economy?

Thanks to its chemical and physical properties, steel is one of the most versatile production materials of our time. Many different sectors of the economy benefit from this. A good example for this is electrical steel, which is used in various areas including wind turbine generators and the engines of electric vehicles. Because of the increasingly efficient properties of electrical steel, environmental impact and efficiency ratings have improved considerably in recent years. Today, more CO2 is being saved during the deployment of electrical steel than is used during its production.

How important is recyclability to the environmental footprint of steel?

Steel is 100 percent recyclable – any number of times and with no loss in quality. It is this characteristic that essentially halves the CO2 footprint of steel.

Please describe the recycling processes used at your plant?

Our goal is to reuse as many of our waste products as possible. Production scrap is melted down. Metallic dust is used to produce steel. Slag and mud are used as materials for road construction or as raw materials for concrete production. Even our process water is recycled up to 25 times. In total, we manage to save several million metric tons of CO2 every year.

What is the exhaust gas treatment used by the company?

Again, our main goal here is reuse. The iron dust that we filter out, for example, is returned directly to the steel production cycle. We employ a number of highly sophisticated filter systems that keep our emissions significantly lower than the legal thresholds.

What kind of energy efficiency initiatives are you expecting from the government?

Energy efficiency doesn’t actually need to be prescribed by the government. Unfortunately, however, there is a tendency towards excessive regulation when it comes to energy efficiency and climate protection. As an industrial enterprise, it is completely in our own interest. We produce sustainable goods that are vital to many areas of day-to-day life, and we do so using highly efficient plants and resource-friendly processes. Europe, Germany, and even the individual German states feel it is their duty to impose their own rules.

What are the consequences of this?

Frequently, the solutions that are actually the most efficient don’t get implemented. I also take issue with the way energy costs are rising as a result of the country’s energy transition to renewables, and with the increasing discussion around tightening up emissions trading. The frameworks being created should not result in deindustrialization but rather provide consistent and competitive working conditions. This is the only way for the steel industry to remain a dependable contributor to sustainable and economical innovations.

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