Global steel production has been rising for decades. Because steel corrodes over time, part of the demand for more steel comes from the need to replace the steel used in construction materials – in everything from bridges to cars – that has become corroded over time. Studies have estimated that the economic cost of corrosion is an astonishing 3 to 4% of a nation’s gross domestic product. Globally, this means that steel corrosion costs the world trillions – yes, trillions with a T – of dollars each year.
On top of the staggering economic impact of corrosion, there is the fact that steel production is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters of any industry, accounting for more than 25% of all manufacturing sector carbon emissions. In fact, steel manufacturing causes over 10% of total global carbon emissions.
As a result of regulations placed on the steel industry, technological advances in the steelmaking process have resulted in a 61% reduction in the industry’s energy consumption over the last 50 years. There are continuing efforts to reduce the energy consumption of steel making and to move away from the use of fossil fuels to produce the needed energy. But without significant improvements, just the emissions associated with replacing corroded steel could make the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement unfeasible.
It’s hard to believe that something costing the world trillions of dollars and has a major negative impact on the climate is largely invisible. Steel corrosion is an enormous societal challenge that has gone under the radar for decades and therefore has not received anything like the attention it deserves.
Photo, posted July 24, 2008, courtesy of Phil Whitehouse via Flickr.