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SUSTAIN: £35m research network aims to fire up ‘carbon neutral’ steel sector

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A computer model for loading blast furnaces

New university and industry-backed network aims to deliver ‘cleaner, greener, and smarter’ steel sector

Universities, research agencies, businesses, and trade bodies came together yesterday to launch a major new initiative designed to turn the UK into a world-leading hub for ‘carbon neutral’ steel production.

Dubbed SUSTAIN the new £35m research network is to be led by Swansea University in partnership with the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick, as well as more than 20 companies and organisations across the UK steel industry.

Initially focused on a seven year research programme, the initiative said its aim was to “transform the UK steel sector” and make it “cleaner, greener, and smarter, and more responsive to the fast-changing needs of customers”.

In addition to private sector funding, the initiative has secured a £10m investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of its Future Manufacturing Research Hubs programme.

The research network is set to focus on delivering closed loop material flows for the sector, resulting in 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,” the group said.

A number of steel firms are already pioneering the use of renewable power to recycle steel, but experts have warned further innovation and investment is needed across the industry if it is to deliver the deep decarbonisation required to meet the UK’s carbon targets.

The initiative will also look to pioneer new smart steel processing approaches that make use of data to deliver more bespoke high tech products.

The group hopes its work can help double UK steel manufacturers’ gross value add by 2030, increase productivity by 15 per cent, and boost jobs in the industry.

The news follows hot on the heels of the government’s announcement late last year that it is to provide £170m of funding to support the creation of the world’s first net zero hub for heavy industry.

Yesterday’s news was welcomed by academics and industry figures from across the steel sector.

“This news is a massive vote of confidence in the steel industry,” said Dr Cameron Pleydell-Pearce, steel expert at Swansea University and SUSTAIN’s deputy director. “It will support the industry’s vision for a responsible, innovative and creative future. We are already on the road to clean, green and smart steelmaking, but this is another giant step forward. Research and innovation are the bedrock of a modern steel industry. This network represents almost the whole UK steel sector, with researchers and companies working together on an unprecedented scale.”

His comments were echoed by Gareth Stace, director general at trade body UK Steel, who hailed the new innovation funding as “a vital piece of the puzzle to help deliver our vision of a cutting-edge, vibrant, and sustainable steel industry in the UK”.

“The future success of our sector rests on our ability to remain at the forefront of product and process innovation, delivering the new steel products demanded by our customers and society,” he said. “This new hub will enable us to do just that.”

Source: – Business Green
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