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A Terribly Stupid Claim About Green Steel And Recycling

The No. 5 blast furnace at Corus’ Port Talbot Works, South Wales. The furnace was rebuilt in eight months in 2002 at a cost of £75m. It produces around 1.5 million tonnes of liquid iron a year and is designed to operate continuously for a minimum of 15 years. Credit:NewsCast +44 (0) 20 7608 1000

Sure, we know how this works. Recycling is fashionable, it has become the solution to everything including inequality and limp members. So, if we say something about recycling then it will solve whatever problem is being addressed.

Except, of course, when it is recycling causing the problem itself. As here:

HS2 could provide the UK steel industry with the boost it so desperately needs
Using recycled steel could boost Britain’s green credentials and help the ailing industry

No, it wouldn’t. Britain’s steel industry doesn’t have any problems at all. It’s doing fine, cruising along quite happily.

It is Britain’s primary steel industry that’s in the crapper. The people who use blast furnaces to create virgin metal out of iron ore, coke and limestone are getting right shafted. Scunthorpe, Redcar, wherever it is that peeps are trying to “save” British Steel for example. They’re screwed.

Screwed by what though? By the generational – this has been going on for decades now and will continue – switch to using scrap steel to make secondary steel. This uses an entirely different process, arc furnaces. It’s cheaper, nicer, less energy consuming and it’s, yes, wait for it, recycling.

The primary steel industry is being screwed because we now use more recycled steel. Thus using more recycled steel isn’t going to lead to solving the problems of Britain’s primary steel industry, is it?

This has actually been explained before:

However, no one wants the two blast furnaces there which make up the other part of the plant, as we can now make our ingots of steel out of scrap. It’s a standard assumption in the metals world that no one will ever again build a new blast furnace in the rich, industrialised countries. Not only do we not need them, we don’t need all the ones we’ve already got.

So, as I say, that half of the Florange plant is closing because the hippies have won – as they should indeed have done on this one particular point.

We can even check this. The Liberty Steel plan to save British Steel is to close the blast furnace and replace it with arc furnaces. That is, to kill off primary steel making entirely.

If I were more cynical than I am then I’d be wondering whether it wasn’t someone like Liberty Steel feeding stories to credulous Telegraph reporters.

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4 years ago

Yes, “Britain’s primary steel industry is in the crapper.” But it ought to be! If the numbers favor recycled steel (though partly due to artificial costs of landfilling), then the economy should follow the numbers and do the right thing. What’s not to like about a process that saves money and makes garbage disappear? Policy aimed at saving existing jobs at blast furnaces will be costly and impair innovation. As Trump’s preoccupation with saving American manufacturing jobs ignores the fact that manufacturing output was setting records using fewer people.

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