Call For Port Talbot Steelworks To Become A Vast Steel Recycling Hub
7 September 2016
New ways of processing steel, and then making new products with it, could help secure the long-term future of steelmaking in places like Port Talbot.
That was the consensus from a panel of speakers at a British Science Festival debate held at Swansea University about steel in the 21st Century.
Laura Baker, technical manager at Tata Steel, said she felt there was a "vibrant future" for the Port Talbot works, which employs around 4,000 people and produces some four million tonnes of steel per year.
"We have invested for the future in Port Talbot, Llanwern and other areas in the UK," she said. "We have got new graduates and apprentices coming in every year."
Swansea University graduate Dr Baker, who stressed she was speaking in her professional role as an engineer rather than a Tata employee, said when asked that she felt electric arc furnaces, which use recycled metal rather than iron ore to make steel, were not something that Tata should ignore.
She said the steelworks, which were put up for sale earlier this year, would probably make more steel-coated products in the future but added that ongoing demand from the automotive sector would remain strong.
Coated products include steel roof panels which double up as solar panels. These are being made by a Baglan-based academic and industrial group called Specific.
"I think there is lots of untapped potential in coatings," she said.
Specific research director and fellow panellist, Professor David Worsley, said: "Strip steel in construction is a new market."
He felt the future of steel was "extremely positive" given the amount used in the UK, but said innovation was critical.
He agreed that electric arc furnaces were a good idea as long as you had plentiful electricity to power them, and pointed out the two new blast furnaces at Port Talbot were probably the most efficient in Europe.
The panel agreed that recycling more steel, and finding better ways of ensuring its quality, was also a big priority.
Cambridge University PhD student Katie Daehn, who was also on the panel, said the average lifespan for a steel product was 38 years, that UK scrap steel was likely to double in the next 15 years, and that there was no room for blast furnace expansion due to global over-supply.
"Right now we (the UK) are exporting about two-thirds of our scrap, and that's a big opportunity missed," she said.
She reckoned that Port Talbot's steelworks could become a big recycling hub for steel. "I think it needs a big change in mindset," she said.
The audience also heard that the steelworks could become self-sufficient in energy needs from around 2018 onwards.
Professor of history Louise Miskell said that the original Abbey Works plant, which opened in 1951, was outward-looking and state-of-the-art.
"It was a symbol of post-war reconstruction," she said. "The town was renamed, briefly, 'treasure island'."
Fleet Street journalists came to witness the steelworks' opening, with one scribe writing that Port Talbot was "a fine cure for gloom".
Source : southwales-eveningpost.co.uk