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UK launches £35M research network to transform the steel supply chain

In the UK, steelmakers and university experts will partner in a 7-year, £35-million (US$45-million) research network called SUSTAIN. SUSTAIN is led by Swansea University, partnered with the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick, and involves more than twenty partners across the UK steel industry: companies, trade bodies, academic experts and research organizations.

The ambition is to transform radically the carbon intensity of the process of producing the world’s most widely used advanced material and at the same time tailor its application to emerging manufacturing opportunities for electrification of transport, manufactured buildings and sustainable packaging.

SUSTAIN is supported by a £10-million (US$13-million) investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as it will be one of their Future Manufacturing Research Hubs.

The SUSTAIN Manufacturing Hub will be led by Professor David Worsley at Swansea University. It has been co-created by the five major UK steel producers (Tata, Liberty, British Steel, Celsa, and Sheffield Forgemasters) and the three principal Universities that have expertise in this area (Swansea, Warwick and Sheffield).

The announcement marks the first time that UK steel producers and representatives from the manufacturing sector have lined up behind a co-ordinated program of research. It is also the largest ever single investment in steel research by a UK research council. The plan is that SUSTAIN will be a seed from which much wider research and innovation will grow, drawing on expertise across UK academia and beyond.

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Computer model for loading blast furnaces, based on Swansea University research, which has improved the efficiency of one of the Port Talbot furnaces, saving £1.1 million (US$1.4 million) a year in energy and raw materials.

The aim of SUSTAIN is to transform the whole steel supply chain, making it cleaner, greener and smarter, and more responsive to the fast-changing needs of customers. Its work will be concentrated on two areas:

  • Zero waste iron and steelmaking, with the aim of making the industry carbon-neutral by 2040: Steel is already the world’s most recycled material, but the network will investigate new ways of making the industry’s processes and products even greener, such as harvesting untapped energy sources, capturing carbon emissions and re-processing societal and industrial waste streams.

  • Smart steel processing: Like any 21st century industry, steelmaking involves masses of data. SUSTAIN will develop new ways of acquiring and using this data in new metallurgical processes, which can deliver bespoke high tech products.

The work of SUSTAIN is projected to:

  • Double UK steel manufacturers’ gross value added (GVA) by 2030;

  • Boost jobs in the industry to 35,000; and

  • Increase productivity by 15%.

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