Scrap endowment and inequalities in global steel decarbonization


Scrap steel recycling, powered by emission-free electricity, can produce nearly zero-emission steel at a lower cost than alternative primary production. However, the feasibility of this production method depends on future scrap availability. This study highlights the unequal distribution of future scrap availability worldwide, with the Global North having abundant scrap, while the Global South faces impending scarcity unless scrap is imported. By 2050, the European Union, North America, and developed Asia and Oceania could hold stocks of end-of-life scrap that are equal to their entire steel demand, if they chose to do so. China could also have domestic end-of-life scrap equivalent to about half of its cumulative demand. Conversely, developing countries, such as India and states in Africa, are expected to have severely limited domestic end-of-life scrap, representing less than 5% of their cumulative demand without international trade. This disparity, referred to as “scrap endowment”, is a consequence of the Global North’s historical carbon emissions. The scrap endowment enables the Global North to produce zero-emission steel at a relatively low cost, while the Global South grapples with limited, more costly options. These findings imply the need for equity-focused mechanisms to assist the Global South if both hemispheres are to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, or soon thereafter.


Takuma Watari, Damien Giurco, and Jonathan Cullen


Journal of Cleaner Production, 2023, 425, 139041, Link