Five things we learned at Fastmarkets’ Scrap & Steel ’23 conference

Consolidation, the recycling of electric vehicle batteries, US steel exports and the benefits of sustainable steelmaking were key talking points at Fastmarkets’ Scrap & Steel 2023 conference in Dallas in January

Consolidation will ‘never be over’

While consolidation in the scrap industry has accelerated in recent years, in some sense it will “never be over,” according to Bobby Triesch, vice president and regional general manager of SA Recycling. There will be new entrants who see a local or regional opportunity, given the entrepreneurial nature of the industry, he said. And those firms will in turn either grow and consolidate other facilities or be absorbed by bigger firms. Benefits of scrap industry consolidation include cost reductions, marketing leverage and improved processing costs, he said.

EV battery recycling not high on agenda

The recycling of electric-vehicle batteries is not high on the agenda of major US recyclers, given relatively low volumes and difficulties processing the batteries, but it could be a growth area, executives said during the event. Specialist companies such as Li-Cycle, Redwood Materials and Aqua Metals look to be the first movers in the space. The combustibility of the material and how to safely discharge batteries are among key concerns, executives said. Li-Cycle opened a new plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last October.

US steel exports to Europe could happen soon

“Don’t be surprised” if the US exports steel to Europe soon, according to Kloeckner Metals chief executive officer John Ganem. This comes as high energy costs there and the need for sustainable steel converge to make imports from the US attractive. Europe has a greater need for sustainable steel compared with the US, Ganem noted. “For some reason, we’re a little bit more price focused in the US,” he said. Manufacturing generally could shift from Europe to North America, given the domestic energy advantage, according to Andrew Lichter, vice president, corporate strategy and development at Mobius Risk Group.

Steel is bipartisan

Republicans and Democrats equally support the domestic steel industry, albeit for different reasons, according to Samir Kapadia, principal and chief operating officer at The Vogel Group. Republicans approach steel as more of a national security issue and one to boost exports and spur manufacturing, while Democrats look at it more as a jobs concern in key swing states. But these interests have aligned in recent years to the benefit of the industry — for example, through tariff mechanisms such as Section 232, Kapadia said — and that will likely remain the case.

The ‘Green Steel Club’

Europe and the US as well as other countries are mulling a “Green Steel Club” for countries that operate with low carbon emissions. It would include more favorable trade terms for steel and aluminium produced more cleanly, according to Kapadia, as well as barriers for more environmentally harmful metals — from China, for example. Some kind of cross-border adjustment mechanism that captures emissions is key for the development of new steelmaking technologies, Electra co-founder and CEO Sandeep Nijhawan said during the conference. Electra, based in Boulder, Colorado, uses a low-temperature, oxygen-decoupled electrolysis process to refine iron ore with as low as 30-35% iron content.

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