IRONER - Potential for innovative and sustainable recycling of steel

Within the framework of the IRONER project, open questions were identified and the necessary innovations for increased steel recycling were developed. In addition to a material flow analysis, stakeholder interviews and ecological and economic considerations, the influences of increased steel recycling on metallurgical processes and material properties of steel products were examined.

Short Description


Completed (October 2022)

Starting point / motivation

The European iron and steel industry is committed to the global climate targets and aims to reduce production-related CO2 emissions by at least 55% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030 with climate neutrality (zero CO2 emission from steel production processes) by 2050 as an ultimate goal. Scrap is a significant secondary raw material for steel production and a key pillar within the transition towards a climate-neutral steel industry. Melting scrap leads to lower resource consumption than steel production via the primary route and therefore holds environmental and economic advantages. Increased and optimized recycling of scrap to produce high-performance steels requires precise knowledge of available scrap grades. Particularly post-consumer scrap often cannot meet the required quality criteria with regard to its composition (e.g., share of non-metallic impurities or non-ferrous metals). This induces a currently high export rate, and thus, an exclusion of iron resources from the material cycle. Environmental protection and circular economy are central topics within the steel sector and require measures and improved technologies for scrap processing to minimize its export.

Contents and goals

In this context, the IRONER project focused on identifying optimisation potential for sustainable steel recycling and developing a comprehensive catalogue of pending issues and necessary innovations to strengthen steel recycling. Further objectives of IRONER were the development of a material flow analysis for Austria and selected neighbouring countries as well as the generation of knowledge about scrap management and the influence of scrap on material properties. Preliminary findings concerning the economic effects of increased use of scrap and its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are supplementary elements within the study.

Methodological approach

The project pursued a comprehensive and application-oriented approach which included a model-based material flow analysis and stakeholder interview as well as metallurgical, materials engineering and economic considerations. A material flow analysis for Austria was used to evaluate the availability of certain scrap grades in relation to the crude steel demand. Information provided by a survey among the Austrian steel industry, plant manufacturer, and metal recycling companies completed missing data. Furthermore, conclusions were drawn about necessary technical and digital innovations and ultimately, a position paper was developed to identify open research questions. This report can serve as a guideline for future national funding initiatives.

Results / conclusions

The share of post-consumer scrap within the total scrap mix in Austria will increase in the future, whereby without appropriate measures a low degree of purity of the scrap is expected. Consequently, by maintaining the current scrap treatment, the quality requirements for crude steel in Austria will only be met with a correspondingly low scrap quota. It is estimated by Austrian stakeholders that the demand for scrap will increase in the coming years, primarily due to the planned transition from primary production to electric arc furnaces. Although, the estimated, medium-term additionally demand roughly corresponds to the current amount of scrap exported from Austria, the required scrap grades cannot be provided by the scrap market at present.

Conventional processing and sorting techniques are reaching their limits, especially as the complexity of the products increases, and efforts to improve the sorting of scrap are inevitable. The use of innovative technologies for processing and sorting as well as their combination can significantly improve scrap quality and sorting purity and thus increase scrap availability. From a metallurgical point of view, the increasing use of secondary raw materials and the associated accompanying elements result in changes in process control as well as a need for additional research with regard to already well-studied reactions and interactions. The significance of increased utilisation of scrap regarding climate protection and economic development is highlighted by the scarcity of the available greenhouse gas budget to meet the Paris climate targets and the currently limited access to more climate-friendly renewable energy sources.

All these technological, metallurgical, organisational and regulatory aspects of enhanced scrap use require detailed and comprehensive assessment and offer a broad field for further research projects.

Project Partners

Project management

Gerhard Hackl
ASMET Research GmbH
Franz Josefstraße 18, 8700 Leoben
Tel: +43 3842 402 2294

Partners of the project consortium

  • Martin Beermann
    JOANNEUM RESEARCH – LIFE Zentrum für Klima, Energie und Gesellschaft
  • Johannes Rieger, Monika Häuselmann
    K1-MET GmbH
  • Johannes Schenk, Susanne Michelic, Julian Cejka
    Montanuniversität Leoben / Lehrstuhl für Eisen- und Stahlmetallurgie
  • Ronald Schnitzer, Amin Sakic
    Montanuniversität Leoben, Lehrstuhl für Stahldesign
  • Sabine Dworak
    Technische Universität Wien, Institut für Wassergüte und Ressourcenmanagement
  • Karl Steininger, Jakob Mayer
    Universität Graz, Wegener Center für Klima und Globalen Wandel