Steel jobs ‘can be saved by tech’, says energy researcher

Port Talbot

Prof Julian Allwood said the only way to save steel jobs was to make high-value products for industries in which the UK leads the world.

New methods could scrub impurities from recycled steel to make products for the aerospace and car industries, reports The BBC.

It comes as efforts are being made to save thousands of jobs at Tata Steel’s Port Talbot steel plant in south Wales.

The announcement by the Indian company that it is to sell its UK business is the latest blow to an industry which has seen a succession of job cuts.

Prof Allwood said current plans for the steel industry did not go far enough, because they did not utilise the latest technology.

In his six-year study on the steel sector, the predicament of the industry appears stark.

“The global steel industry today has more capacity for making steel from iron ore than it will ever need again,” he said.

“On average, products made with steel last 35 to 40 years, and around 90% of all used steel is collected. This is easy because it’s magnetic.

“The supply of steel collected from goods at the end of their life therefore lags the supply of new steel by about 40 years.”

Reducing industrial electricity costs in Britain would help, but only a little, he said, and the UK should instead concentrate on recycled steel.

That is what is proposed by Sanjeev Gupta, the entrepreneur who has expressed interest in turning the Port Talbot works into a recycling plant.

But Prof Allwood said that plan did not go far enough, because most scrap metal contained impurities that made it suitable for only low-value products, such as steel reinforcing bars, which were subject to heavy international competition.

It would be far better, he said, to harness science to make pure hi-tech steel that met the needs of the UK’s leading industries.

“UK taxpayers will have to bear costs of Tata Steel’s decision to close the Port Talbot plant,” he said.

“If the existing operations are to be sold, taxpayers must subsidise the purchase without the guarantee of a long-term national gain.

“If the plants are closed, the loss of jobs, income and livelihoods will reverberate throughout the UK steel supply chain.

“Instead, the strategy presented here enables taxpayers to invest in a long-term structural transformation.

“This would allow UK innovation ahead of any other large player.”

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