The strength, durability, and adaptability of steel make it vital to modern economies. It’s used in the construction of our homes and workplaces, in bridges and infrastructure projects, renewable energy generation, and in everyday electronics and equipment on which we all depend. It can be reused or recycled repeatedly without loss of quality, and steel is fundamental to a successful circular economy. Globally, steel supports the direct employment of over 6 million people and more than 49 million people indirectly. It’s therefore not surprising that BlueScope sees a strong future for steel, providing a critical foundation for sustainable economic development and the transition to a low-carbon world.
Philippa Stone, Sustainability Manager with BlueScope explains how Australia’s largest steel manufacturer is working towards embedding sustainability in everything it does. “In our FY2023 Sustainability Report, BlueScope has described how we’re focusing our actions to deliver on our five sustainability outcomes,” says Philippa.
BlueScope’s Sustainability Outcomes represent the sustainability challenges and opportunities their stakeholders consider most important. We look at some of these priorities within the Australian context and explore how they are translated into action at BlueScope.
Climate change action requires transformative efforts across all sectors of the economy and BlueScope is actively contributing to this collective effort.
“BlueScope is committed to actively addressing climate change and investing in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction to transform our business for long-term success,” Philippa says.
BlueScope has a 2050 net zero goal1 and is targeting a 12% GHG emission intensity reduction by 2030 for its global steelmaking activities and a 30% reduction by 2030 for global non-steel making activities. BlueScope’s progress is evident, achieving an 8.0% reduction in steelmaking GHG emissions intensity between FY2018 and FY20232
Increasing the availability of scrap and maximising its use within BlueScope’s steelmaking operations is a key focus for the company. According to data from the Association of Iron and Steel Technology, the proportion of scrap BlueScope incorporates in its Basic Oxygen Steelmaking process is industry leading3. Port Kembla Steelworks has increased its use of scrap steel from 21.5% to 25% over the past three years to maximise recycled content and reduce GHG emissions. BlueScope is exploring opportunities to use up to 30% scrap in its process in future. Philippa notes that in Australia there is insufficient scrap steel supply to meet BlueScope’s current production needs of around 3 million tonnes of flat steel products per annum, and therefore several initiatives in lower emissions ironmaking pathways are being accelerated.
“We have continued to progress exploration of lower-emissions iron and steelmaking technologies. This includes the completion of a concept study with Rio Tinto to explore DRI and its application to Australia’s Pilbara hematite ores in conjunction with Electric Smelting Furnaces (ESF), known as 'Melters'. We have also announced an options study to explore the longer-term, large-scale decarbonisation of ironmaking in Australia. This includes exploring natural gas as a transitional step to green hydrogen,” says Philippa. “BlueScope has also expanded technology collaborations with global steelmakers, such as ThyssenKrupp, Tata Steel and POSCO.”
As the business broadens its review of the most likely decarbonisation options for ironmaking in Australia, Philippa adds that the reline and upgrade of the No.6 Blast Furnace at the Port Kembla Steelworks, NSW will provide the bridge to a low-carbon future. In line with this, BlueScope is also developing and exploring strategies to reduce emissions from iron making in the mid-term which can be achieved using blast furnace technology.
“Trials at the Port Kembla Steelworks on the potential use of biocarbon to replace pulverised coal injection (PCI) into the blast furnace have generated positive initial results,” says Philippa. “The results have been encouraging - biocarbon replaced up to 30 per cent of PCI during the trial with no adverse process or quality impacts identified.”
Iron and steelmaking transformation will be dependent on the key enablers that underpin BlueScope’s 2050 net zero goal. “These include, technology evolution, access to raw materials and firmed, renewable energy, hydrogen availability and supportive policies,” says Philippa.
Responsible products and supply chains
With a long history of product innovation, BlueScope is dedicated to optimising material efficiency, enhancing beneficial use, and prolonging product life. “Our emphasis on product stewardship is geared towards enhancing the positive impact our products make to health and safety throughout their life cycle, with a crucial focus on reducing our environmental impact, including embodied carbon,” Philippa says.
This is evidenced in various ways – for instance, BlueScope is creating strength for Australia's renewable energy future by providing locally-made steel for major wind farm projects. Philippa highlighted how a typical individual wind tower can include up to 300 tonnes of steel plate, averaging approximately 60 tonnes of steel for every megawatt (MW) of wind electricity generation.4
Another example is roofing products like COLORBOND® Coolmax® steel which is designed to maintain high solar reflectance. This not only has the potential to reduce roofing temperatures and keep buildings coole5 but also helps mitigate the impact of urban heat islands.
In addition, BlueScope’s range of high-strength steel grades can enhance the strength-to-weight performance in structural steel applications. This approach can minimise the volume of steel required, leading to potential embodied carbon savings compared to a reference building design that uses standard steel grades.
Steel also lends itself to structures that are designed for long life and future reuse. “For instance, TRUECORE® steel incorporates BlueScope's Activate® technology for improved corrosion resistance and can also support the adaptive reuse of existing structures,” says Philippa. Light gauge steel framing made from TRUECORE® steel uses pre-fabricated components for efficient, enduring solutions that, having been custom-made offsite, can also help minimise on-site waste.
BlueScope’s approach to sustainability and responsible products also extends to providing information about the environmental credentials of a range of their products to support customers’ decision-making and sustainability objectives – this includes steel product certification, ecolabelling and product declaration frameworks.
Following the certification of the Port Kembla Steelworks to the ResponsibleSteel™ Standard in 2022, BlueScope’s Western Port site in Australia achieved ResponsibleSteel™ site certification in September 2023. ResponsibleSteel™ is the steel industry’s first global independent multi-stakeholder standard and certification program.
“ResponsibleSteel™ certification provides our customers with the confidence that BlueScope’s Port Kembla Steelworks and Western Port facility meet the highest environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance standards. Certification reinforces our longstanding commitment to sustainability and will continue to support our purpose of strengthening our communities,” said Philippa.
In another Australian example, BlueScope has published Environmental Product Declarations with the EPD Australasia Programme and select products are also certified to GreenTagCertTM GreenRate™, achieving the highest rating – Level A.
Collaborative partnerships are another integral part of BlueScope’s approach to delivering sustainable product solutions. “BlueScope continues to work with its customers to understand and meet the growing demand for products and solutions that support their sustainability objectives and to collaborate with industry through key organisations such as the Green Building Council of Australia, Infrastructure Sustainability Council and Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA),” says Philippa.
BlueScope continues to progress a range of initiatives as part of its First Nations Framework.
“We continue to seek opportunities to support under-represented groups in the communities where we operate. Our Australian Steel Products business has appointed a First Nations Engagement Lead to manage the implementation of First Nations initiatives and commitments nationally, with work underway to collaborate and engage with First Nations businesses in the Illawarra, NSW,” says Philippa.
In another example of how BlueScope is strengthening the communities in which it operates, BlueScope has recently released a Master Plan to develop 200 Hectares (Ha) of landholdings adjacent to the Port Kembla Steelworks.The unveiling follows intensive research and community involvement and will see the company transforming surplus land into a next-generation multi-industrial precinct.
The initiative has the potential to create 30,000 jobs in emerging industries such as clean energy and defence. With potential to enable significant long-term economic and social value for the Illawarra region, Mark Vassella, BlueScope Managing Direction and CEO says it will be “one of the most significant land transformation and jobs creation opportunities in Australia”.
Mark Vassella also announced that BlueScope has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with TAFE NSW to explore the opportunity for a ‘Super TAFE’ on the site. “We are delighted to be working with TAFE NSW to explore this opportunity. They share our vision for ensuring continued growth in opportunities that support people looking to build their careers in the Illawarra region.”
“The BlueScope FY2023 Sustainability Report documents our progress and shares the many ways that we are living by Our Purpose - to create and inspire smart solutions in steel, to strengthen our communities for the future.
“BlueScope is continuing to explore and embrace opportunities to embed sustainability in all that we do,” concludes Philippa.
For further information, please see the BlueScope FY2023 Sustainability Report
1 BlueScope’s net zero goal covers BlueScope’s scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions.
2 FY2018 is the baseline year for BlueScope's steelmaking target of a 12% reduction in GHG emissions intensity by 2030.
3 Based on 2022 data reported by AIST member organisations.
4BlueScope analysis conducted in 2020/21 based on underlying energy needs to meet 2030 state renewables targets. See BlueScope’s Climate Action Report at bluescope.com.
5Compared to conventional roofing materials of lower reflectance index, such as ZINCALUME® steel and all other roofing materials in the COLORBOND® steel range. Actual cool roofing performance will depend on factors including roof colour, roof shape, level and location of insulation, type, location, shape, and function of the building.