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Society, Materials, and the Environment: The Case of Steel


This paper reviews the relationship between the production of steel and the environment as it stands today. It deals with raw material issues (availability, scarcity), energy resources, and generation of by-products, i.e., the circular economy, the anthropogenic iron mine, and the energy transition. The paper also deals with emissions to air (dust, Particulate Matter, heavy metals, Persistant Organics Pollutants), water, and soil, i.e., with toxicity, ecotoxicity, epidemiology, and health issues, but also greenhouse gas emissions, i.e., climate change. The loss of biodiversity is also mentioned. All these topics are analyzed with historical hindsight and the present understanding of their physics and chemistry is discussed, stressing areas where knowledge is still lacking. In the face of all these issues, technological solutions were sought to alleviate their effects: many areas are presently satisfactorily handled (the circular economy—a historical’ practice in the case of steel, energy conservation, air/water/soil emissions) and in line with present environmental regulations; on the other hand, there are important hanging issues, such as the generation of mine tailings (and tailings dam failures), the emissions of greenhouse gases (the steel industry plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050, at least in the EU), and the emission of fine PM, which WHO correlates with premature deaths. Moreover, present regulatory levels of emissions will necessarily become much stricter.

Related subjects: Applications & Pathways
Countries: France

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