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Your zero carbon questions answered

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Many questions have still to be answered before the world’s industries can be confident that they are set on the right paths towards a net zero carbon future; and many questions are being asked of all the heavy industrial process industries including steel manufacturing and the industries that use the steel produced.

Construction is a major user of steel, so sustainability questions unsurprisingly crop up regularly in conversations between clients and construction teams. Many questions will be averted by appointing a BCSA member steelwork contractor of course. The BCSA was the first trade association to establish a Sustainability Charter for its members, in 2005, and it has just been updated.

The Charter highlights that steel is a sustainable form of construction, and that the BCSA is fully committed to carbon reduction. The update strengthens the Charter by increasing the number of requirements demanded of signatories, and it comes with a sustainability toolkit to guide members on their zero carbon journeys.

To further help the many architects, engineers and other construction professionals who value constructional steelwork make the carbon case for steel BCSA’s Sustainability Group has produced detailed answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions, and in this month’s NSC we see the first five questions in a two-part series based on them.

The answers make an interesting as well as informative read, as well as perhaps exploding some misapprehensions that may have built up around steel and sustainability for some people. The series kicks off with an answer to a question about using recycled steel. Recycling is one of steel’s greatest virtues; 95% of structural steel is recycled and it can be continually reused without any degradation of quality.

Electric Arc Furnace steel production uses 100% recycled steel and the Blast Furnace /Basic Oxygen Furnace Method for producing primary steel itself also uses up to 30% recycled material. Beyond those bald facts the picture becomes more complex and, as the answer warns, specifying the use of a high recycled content has no positive sustainability impact at a global level – which is the important level for tackling our carbon problems. It can even have a negative sustainability impact as well as creating market distortions.

Circular economy considerations are coming more to the fore for designers and their clients, and questions are frequently asked about how steel fits into the picture. Again, it is a complex picture, but the answer to the question about how the circular economy helps current carbon emissions shows that the steel sector is not content with just recycling, but is taking steps to improve its circular credentials further by promoting greater reuse of steel and designing to facilitate future deconstruction and reuse.

A question often uppermost in designer’s minds relates to the currently popular practice of rationalisation of steelwork design. As the answer to the question of should a design be rationalised shows though, some material efficiency savings can be achieved by not rationalising design, and studies show that the main cause of over-specified steelwork is conservative engineering assumptions.

The road towards zero carbon will no doubt be a bumpy one, and it will certainly involve consideration of some complex issues. This Frequently Asked Questions series makes a useful contribution to ensuring NSC’s readers are armed with knowledge of what the conversations should – or need not – be about.

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