The North American steel industry is committed to building a sustainable future. The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) and its member companies share a deep dedication to responsible stewardship of our natural resources so that future generations can enjoy them just as we cherish them today.
Over the past decade, AISI's board of directors has identified environmental stewardship and commitment to sustainability as part of our strategic plan and our vision for the future. As we have in the past, we continue to examine strategies to advance that vision. Currently, we see the commitment to improving our environmental performance being advanced through investments in new and innovative technologies; renewal of our long-time commitment to recycling; refinement of industry performance metrics; and collaboration both across the industry and with other sectors.
Innovation has led to the introduction of a wide variety of new steels. In fact, 50 percent of the steels used to make automobiles today didn't exist just 10 years ago. The efficiencies gained from using lighter-weight yet higher-strength steels are impressive, which, when taken in the context of lifecycle impact assessment, have the potential to help achieve significant progress in emission reductions. If currently available advanced high-strength steels were applied throughout the current U.S. automotive fleet, greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles would be reduced by approximately 12 percent—an amount greater than the emissions generated by the entire American steel industry today.
The industry has committed significant resources to this effort. Since 1975, steel companies have spent more than $60 billion on new technologies to improve energy efficiency and productivity. That investment has paid off. The industry has reduced energy use per ton of steel shipped by more than 40 percent during the past 25 years, and by 27 percent since the Kyoto baseline year of 1990. As a matter of fact, the steel industry is the only significant industry in the United States that has reduced its total energy consumption from the Kyoto baseline while increasing its production.
Because of our long-term focus on recycling, the North American steel industry has seen a continued steady rise in the recycling rate for steel. For example, when it comes to cans, steel has outperformed the aluminum can for the past several years by having the highest recycling rate. The overall recycling rate of steel reached an all-time high based on the most recent data compiled through 2005, with an overall recycling rate of 75 percent. Surprisingly, the industry is still working to make the public aware that steel is the most recycled material on the planet—more than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined.
The AISI has been actively engaged with a number of organizations outside our industry to achieve environmental progress. One major focus of AISI's work has been the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate (APP). Cooperating with the U.S. Commerce, State and Energy departments and the Environmental Protection Agency, the AISI has played a leadership role in this important initiative. Founding partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States have agreed to work together and with private-sector partners to meet goals for energy security, national air pollution reduction and climate change in ways that promote sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.
The steel industry is poised, through the work of the AISI, to further advance efforts to reduce its environmental footprint through research projects at universities around the country aimed at reducing, and eventually eliminating, carbon dioxide emissions from the steelmaking process.
One example is a current project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to produce iron by molten oxide electrolysis, which would generate no CO2—a significant first step toward carbon-free ironmaking by a technology that completely avoids emissions of greenhouse gases from the smelter. In addition to the MIT project, the AISI has three other long-range projects that will have a positive impact on the environment ironmaking by hydrogen flash smelting at the University of Utah; geological sequestration of CO2 at the University of Missouri-Rolla; and integrating steel production with mineral sequestration at Columbia University.
Another collaborative effort that produced significant environmental progress is the National Mercury Switch Removal Program, in which the AISI played a central role. AISI efforts helped to successfully complete an agreement with all stakeholders to implement a national program to remove mercury switches from vehicles prior to dismantling. Our industry contributed $2 million during a three-year period—along with $2 million from the automotive industry—to help fund the creation of the implementation fund to encourage removal of the switches. The program is being rolled out in all 50 states and will help ensure mercury air emissions compliance at both electric-arc and basic oxygen steelmaking operations. I am proud that my company announced its own participation in this important program on Aug. 2.
Environmental leadership isn't an option in the 21st Century—it is an imperative. The AISI has focused its leadership efforts around sustainable development as a way of meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow. Looking at sustainable development this way, the steel industry has developed two key indicators to track our progress toward attainment. First, we are measuring the continued growth in the overall recycling rate, which not only saves precious raw materials but also significant amounts of energy for future generations to use. Second, we continue to work with our customers to find new ways to use steel in sustainable ways, whether in cans, automobiles or appliances or the next environmentally friendly building design.
Through innovation, support for recycling, emphasis on metrics and collaborative strategies, the North American steel industry has made important headway on environmental initiatives. But this success must not lead to complacency. We need to press forward because the landscape around us is changing. Commitment to environmental stewardship, or "being green," shouldn't be construed as simply an attractive moniker or as a marketing gimmick. Our industry needs to be one of the players helping to shape the environmental agenda rather than watching from the sidelines.
I urge steel companies who might not yet be part of this vision for a sustainable future to join us. The challenge is great, but the rewards will be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren as they carry on responsible environmental stewardship of our planet.
Ward J. "Tim" Timken is chairman of the American Iron and Steel Institute as well as chairman of Timken Co.
Metals Forum appears monthly and is open to submissions from industry and trade associations eager to address issues of concern to the metals community.