ArcelorMittal is committed to work with OEMs and other partners in the automotive industry to implement the principles of the circular economy. We support initiatives such as the European Union’s recent Circular Economy Package which aims to close the product lifecycle loop through increased recycling and reuse. But what does this mean in practice?
A circular economy is one in which products, such as vehicles, are manufactured and then remain in service as long as possible. The goal is to maximise the value of the energy and resources required to create them. Rather than scrapping the product at the end of its useful life, components are remanufactured to repair defects, or they are reused for a different purpose entirely. Only when every other alternative has been exhausted is the vehicle sent for recycling.
In a perfect circular economy, a vehicle would typically go through four stages which are often referred to as the 4 Rs. In each of the four stages, ArcelorMittal and steel can make a huge impact:
The amount or weight of the material used to create the vehicle is optimised during the design and manufacturing phases to ensure that emissions are reduced during use. Today’s advanced high strength steels are achieving a tensile strength of up to 2,000 MPa, reducing vehicle weight by around a quarter since the early 1990s.
ArcelorMittal’s co-engineering approach helps carmaker to optimise the benefits of these advanced steels and to apply innovative technologies such as laser welded blanks. Through intelligent design, OEMs can lightweight their vehicles significantly by making sure the right steel is in the right place. This decreases emissions during steel production as less metal is required. Lighter vehicles mean reduced emissions during the use phase.
In our existing linear economy model, products are often recycled or discarded when a part fails. In a circular economy, the product and/or its components are remanufactured when they breakdown.
Remanufacturing returns the part to ‘as new’ condition, enabling the remanufacturer to offer at least the same guarantee as a new product. This approach is already common in North America and in some industries. For example, some manufacturers of offer remanufactured parts to their customers. In a circular economy, this approach is extended to every manufactured product.
If a product cannot be remanufactured, a new use is found for it in a circular economy. Ideally reuse is planned in the design process so that the product can be disassembled easily and its components repurposed for other uses with the minimum amount of work.
Manufacturers and recyclers already extract many components from a vehicle when it reaches its end of life. Steel parts, such as engines and even body panels are typically reused as spare parts after cleaning and checking.
Only when the maximum value has been extracted from the product does it get recycled. During this step, every part of the vehicle is recovered and reused to make new materials. All automotive steels are fully recyclable and can be easily separated from other materials and recovered with a magnet.
Through effective and widespread recycling, demand for new raw materials from nature is reduced dramatically. This ensures that raw materials remain available for future generations. The ease of separating steel from other materials is due to its magnetic properties and makes steel the most recycled material in the world. Steel is also is endlessly recyclable: all steel can be re-used indefinitely without loss of quality.
By working together with the automotive industry, ArcelorMittal aims to close the steel lifecycle loop to ensure a sustainable future.