Transitions to material efficiency in the UK steel economy

J. M. Allwood

Steel production is energy intensive so already has achieved impressive levels of energy efficiency. If the emissions associated with steel must be reduced in line with the requirements of the UK Climate Change Act, demand for new steel must be reduced. The strategies of ‘material efficiency’ aim to achieve such a reduction, while delivering the same final services. To meet the emissions targets set into UK law, UK consumption of steel must be reduced to 30 per cent of present levels by 2050. Previous work has revealed six strategies that could contribute to this target, and this paper presents an approximate analysis of the required transition. A macro-economic analysis of steel in the UK shows that while the steel industry is relatively small, the construction and manufacturing sectors are large, and it would be politically unacceptable to pursue options that lead to a major contraction in other sectors. Alternative business models are therefore required, and these are explored through four representative products—one for each final sector with particular emphasis given to options for reducing product weight, and extending product life. Preliminary evidence on the triggers that would lead to customers preferring these options is presented and organized in order to predict required policy measures. The estimated analysis of transitions explored in this paper is used to define target questions for future research in the area.