The concept of circularity requires analyzing products’ entire value chain—broken down by environmental, economic, and social factors—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, steelmaking by-products 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. This conserves natural resources and helps to lower the CO2 emissions that are generated in the production of cement.
voestalpine always seeks to leverage its research and development work in order to push the efficient use of alternative and/or secondary sources of raw materials.
The company’s focus in connection with the determination of products’ sustainability currently is on environmental issues. Specifically, this involves analyzing the environmental impact of products and their decarbonization, mainly with the help of life cycle assessments (LCAs), which are both a core element of this process and a methodological tool. This requires uniform, workable, and globally comparable methods that can help to level the 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 based on two international standards—EN 15804 and ISO 14025—and are audited and verified by independent third parties. voestalpine has listed and published EPDs for various products in the declarations program of the German “Institut Bauen und Umwelt” (IBU), an association of building product manufacturers. These products include hot-formed strip steel; hot-dip galvanized strip steel; hot-formed, pressed steel sections; prestressed concrete turnout sleepers; rails and seamless tubes. EPDs for a number of other products are 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, a technological transformation also affects existing raw and other material cycles as well as symbiotic industrial relationships and thus requires the ongoing and/or new development of sector and cross-sector approaches to circularity.
Regular exchanges with various stakeholders on decarbonization and product sustainability along the supply and value chains help voestalpine to continually refine and flesh out its strategy for CO2-reduced steel production, which must also be climate neutral in the long term.
voestalpine is working intensely on developing measurable targets based on its current approach to the transformation in line with state-of-the-art climate science. A number of different options for verifying such science-based targets are being explored, too.
As part of its comprehensive decarbonization strategy, voestalpine’s Steel Division has already taken short-term decarbonization steps in connection with the CO2-reduced steel climate project at its plant in Linz, Austria. This serves to cut direct carbon dioxide emissions along the existing steel production process chain. The environmental effects of the resulting products, particularly their carbon footprint, are determined and reported by way of LCAs carried out in accordance with internationally accepted methods and standards.
Sustainable and decarbonized products are becoming ever more important to the supply and value chains. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, to develop uniform definitions, methodologies, and parameters. In turn, these will level the playing field in the international competition for sustainable products.
voestalpine discloses the environmental impact of its products in environmental product declarations. In the interest of transparency, it also publishes data on greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) and water consumption as part of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The Group also participates in cross-sector initiatives such as ResponsibleSteel.