The concept of circularity requires analyzing products’ entire value chain broken down by environmental, economic, and social aspects across all phases of their life cycle: from the raw materials to the products’ manufacture, utilization and/or consumption, all the way to the end of their life cycle, which brings about the onset of a new life cycle.
voestalpine has been implementing and continually refining the core concerns of circularity at the level of both processes and products for a long time.
In and of themselves, steel products have a long useful life and contribute to the ongoing development of the circular approach. Modern lightweight steel and production processes (e.g., additive manufacturing) make it possible to reduce the amount of raw materials required for a given product. In their utilization phase, steel products can be repaired and put back together again through various processes, which extends their useful lives. Given their resistance and longevity, steel products can also be repurposed and repeatedly recycled. At the end of their useful lives, finally, they serve as secondary raw materials that are used to manufacture new high-value steel products. The cycle is closed and can be repeated any number of times; this is referred to as the “multirecycling of steel.”
The use of waste and recycled materials from the company’s own steel production also contributes to the circular economy, as does the use of waste and secondary raw materials from external production processes. In turn, the by-products of steel production can be utilized as secondary raw materials to manufacture products in other industries; this is referred to as “industrial symbiosis.” For example, different kinds of blast furnace sand that are generated in the production of steel can be used as grinding additives in the cement industry, thus saving natural resources and helping to lower CO2 emissions that are generated in the production of cement.
voestalpine always endeavors to push the efficient use of alternative and/or secondary sources of raw materials through research & development.
The company’s current focus in connection with the determination of products’ sustainability is on environmental issues. Specifically, this involves identifying the environmental impact of products and their decarbonization mainly with the help of life cycle assessments (LCAs), which are both a core element and a methodological tool. This requires uniform, workable, and globally comparable methodologies that can help to create a level playing field internationally, thus promoting sustainable economic growth.
Environmental product declarations (EPDs) are a critical tool that voestalpine uses to determine and communicate products’ environmental impact based on their life cycle assessments. EPDs are rooted in two international standards—EN 15804 and ISO 14025—and are audited and verified by independent third parties. voestalpine has listed and published environmental product declarations for various products in the declarations program of the German “Institut Bauen und Umwelt” (IBU), an association of building product manufacturers. This includes hot-dip galvanized strip steel; electrical steel strip; colofer®; hot-formed, pressed steel; prestressed concrete turnout sleepers; as well as heavy plate and rails. EPDs for a number of other products in preparation.
The decarbonization of the steel industry is a considerable challenge for both process and product development and is inseparable from circularity. It is important to ensure in the transformation toward largely zero carbon production that the high quality of products and raw materials remains the same. Moreover, the technological transformation also affects existent substance and materials cycles as well as symbiotic industrial relationships and thus requires the ongoing and/or new development of sectoral and cross-sectoral approaches to circularity.
voestalpine itself is an integral part of supply and value chains in different sectors such as the automotive industry, the electrical industry, and the oil & natural gas industry. Specific requirements, projects, and ideas are shared and/or jointly developed in regular exchanges on decarbonization and product sustainability with customers and other stakeholders.
Open discussions and substantive analyses of customers’ and voestalpine’s own decarbonization strategies and approaches are a central component of these conversations. Goals, technological concepts, and time horizons are discussed and compared with a view toward existent and future supply relationships and business models. Assessments and definitions of CO2-reduced and/or decarbonized products are equally important in these discussions, because there is a need for uniform and accepted methodologies that proceed from verified and valid data. Different approaches to life cycle analyses can map and make available the requisite information on the environmental footprint over the entire supply and value chain.
To foster transparency, voestalpine not only publishes information on its greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) and its water consumption as part of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) but also participates in cross-sector initiatives such as ResponsibleSteel.