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Iron and Steel

Iron and steel are key products for the global economy. Since 2000, global steel production has grown by 75%, reaching 1.49 billion tons of steel in 20111. The sector is the largest industrial emitter of CO2 (with direct emissions of 2.16 Gt in 2006) and second largest industrial user of energy (consuming 24 EJ in 2006). Although considerable improvements have been made in recent years, the iron and steel sector still has the technical potential to further reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions by approximately 20%, saving 4.7 EJ of energy and 350 Mt of CO2.2

Steel production involves numerous process steps that can be laid out in various combinations depending on product mix, available raw materials, energy supply and investment capital. Key characteristics of the three main processing routes are as following:

  1. In Blast Furnace (BF)/Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) route, pig iron is produced using primarily iron ore (70% to 100%) and coke in a blast furnace, and then turned into steel in a basic oxygen furnace. Due to the inclusion of coke making and sintering operations, this route is highly energy intensive.
  2. Scrap/Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) route is primarily based on scrap for the iron input and has significantly lower energy intensity compared to the BF/BOF route due to the omission of coke making and iron making processes;
  3. Direct Reduced Iron (DRI)/EAF route, based on iron ore and often scrap for the iron input. Energy intensity of DRI production can be lower than BF route, depending on the size, and fuel and ore characteristics.

In recent years, there is also increasing attention being paid to smelting reduction, which is emerging as a contender to blast furnace process.

Iron and SteelSchematic

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Iron and Steel Publications

Energy Efficiency Improvement and Cost Saving Opportunities for the U.S. Iron and Steel Industry

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) energy guide, Energy Efficiency Improvement and Cost Saving Opportunities for the U.S. Iron and Steel Industry, discusses energy efficiency practices and technologies that can be implemented in iron and steel manufacturing plants. This guide provides current real world examples of iron and steel plants saving energy and reducing cost and carbon dioxide emissions.

The State–of-the-Art Clean Technologies (SOACT) for Steelmaking Handbook


The State–of-the-Art Clean Technologies (SOACT) for Steelmaking Handbook is developed as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate program and seeks to catalog the best available technologies and practices to save energy and reduce environmental impacts in the steel industry. Its purpose is to share information about commercialized or emerging technologies and practices that are currently available to increase energy efficiency and environmental performance. 

Prospective Scenarios on Energy Efficiency and CO2 Emissions in the EU Iron & Steel Industry

The study analyzes the role of technology innovation and its diffusion in the environmental and energy efficiency performance of the Iron and Steel sector from the point of view of the cost-effectiveness of the retrofits of the main process at the plant level and, in particular, for the EU-27 Iron & Steel industry in the medium-to-long term. The report includes a wealth of information on technology options applicable to the iron and steel industry, along with their energy and CO2 performance and cost implications.

Assessment Of Cumulative Cost Impact For The Steel Industry

This study contains an assessment of the cumulative costs of EU legislation on the European steel industry, as well as an evaluation of how these costs affect the competitiveness of this industry from an international standpoint. Cumulative costs are compared to production costs and current margins of the European steel industry, as well as to the production costs of international steel competitors. The study is commissioned by The European Commission's Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry and prepared by the Center for European Policy Studies.

Iron and Steel Reference Documents

Best Available Technique (BAT) Reference Document for Iron and Steel Production

Published by the Joint Research Center of Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), that is part of European Commision, this reference document provides detailed information on the Best Available Technologies (BAT) applicable to the iron and steel manufacturing.

Iron and Steel Case Studies

OneSteel - EnMS Case Study

This case study examines how OneSteel is embedding energy efficiency into its core business processes. It describes OneSteel's approach to energy efficiency and the new systems and tools that were developed for the Sydney Steel Mills group and are now being rolled out across OneSteel. As a result, Onesteel are expected to achieve an annual energy saving of over 6% of total energy use through adopted savings opportunities identified by its assessments for the Energy Efficiency Opportunities program.

Iron and Steel Presentations

Due to the high diversity of production processes in the sector, benchmarks based on per ton of product are of limited use. At minimum, there is a need to treat dominating BF/BOF, scrap/EAF, and DRI/EAF routes separately.  Even then, there are significant variations in the energy efficiency levels of primary steel production between countries and between plants, due to differences in scale, extent of waste heat recovery, quality of iron ore and fuels, operatinal know-how, automation, and quality control.

The scrap based steel production does not require the ore preparation, coke making and iron making stages necessary for producing iron from the ore in BF/BOF route and is therefore significantly less energy intensive – requiring between 4 to 6 GJ/t as compared to 13 to 14 GJ/t in BF/BOF route. Scrap based production, on the other hand, is limited by the availability of scrap metal

Iron and SteelBenchmarks

The following table provides best practice energy consumption data for different commonly used process routes for iron and steel production. It should be noted that totals for different process routes highly depend on feedstock and material flows and can show significant variations between different plants.  Therefore, comparing individual plants to the totals listed here may be misleading

World Best Practice Final and Primary Energy Intensity Values for Iron and Steel (Values in GJ/metric ton of steel)1
Production step Process Blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace  Smelt reduction - basic oxygen furnace Direct reduced iron - electric arc furnace Scrap-electric arc furnace
    Final Primary2 Final Primary2 Final Primary2 Final Primary2
Material preperation Sintering 1.9 2.2     1.9 2.2    
Pelletizing     0.6 0.8 0.6 0.8    
Coking 0.8 1.1            
Iron making Blast furnace 12.2 12.4            
Smelt reduction     17.3 17.9        
Direct reduced iron         11.7 9.2    
Steelmaking Basic oxygen furnace -0.4 -0.3 -0.4 -0.3        
Electric arc furnace         2.5 5.9 2.4 5.5
Refining 0.1 0.4 0.1 0.4        
Casting & rolling Continuous casting 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Hot rolling3 1.8 2.4 1.8 2.4 1.8 2.4 1.8 2.4
Sub-total 16.5 18.2 19.5 21.2 18.6 20.6 4.3 8.0
Cold rolling & finishing Cold rolling 0.4 0.9 0.4 0.9        
Finishing 1.1 1.4 1.1 1.4        
Total 18.0 20.6 21.0 23.6 18.6 20.6 4.3 8.0

Casting & rolling

  0.2 0.5 0.2 0.5 0.2 0.5 0.2 0.5
Alternative total: 14.8 16.3 17.8 19.2 16.9 18.6 2.6 6.0



Benchmark Footnotes: 


Worrell, E., Price, L., Neelis, M., Galitsky, C., Nan, Z. (2008). World Best Practice Energy Intensity Values for Selected Industrial Sectors. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


For primary energy consumption, losses in converting fuels to electricity and in transmission are taken into consideration.  These are assumed to be 67%. 


Values are based on energy use for production of hot rolled bars.

According to World Steel Association data, global steel production has increased by about 75% since 2000 and reached 1.49 billon tons of crude steel in 2011. In the same period, iron produced in blast furnaces and using direct reduction processes increased by 88% and 45%, reaching 1 080 and 64 million tons, respectively. Although there has been significant increase in scrap use in steel-making, in 2011 a higher share of steel was produced from iron derived from ore, than in 2000 (BF+DRI/steel ratios in 2000 and 2011 are 0.73 and 0.76, respectively).

The six largest producers (China, Japan, the United States, India, Russia and South Korea) accounted for 73% of total world steel production in 2011.

The iron and steel sector is the second-largest industrial user of energy, consuming 24 EJ in 2006, and the largest industrial source of CO2 emissions.

There are many proven technologies and practices that can significantly reduce the energy demand and CO2 generation in this sector. Some of the major technologies and their estimated potential for different regions are presented in the figure below. 

BAT Potential in Iron and  Steel Industry

General Industry Characteristics

Top Six Steel Producers and their Share in Global Production

See Source Data

2011 [1]

Name Mt
China 683.3
Japan 107.6
United States 86.2
India 72.2
Russia 68.7
South Korea 68.5
Rest of the World 403.5
TOTAL 1490
Back to Chart

2011 [1]


[1] World Steel Association:

There are numerous organizations working at global, regional, national levels to improve the resource productivity and reduce the environmental impact of iron and steel manufactuing. Some of the major ones are listed below:

Iron and Steel Organizations Global

Iron and Steel Organizations Asia-Pacific

Iron and Steel Organizations Australia

Iron and Steel Organizations Brazil

Iron and Steel Organizations China

Iron and Steel Organizations Europe

Iron and Steel Organizations European Union

Iron and Steel Organizations India

Iron and Steel Organizations United States

Iron and Steel Organizations Japan

Iron and Steel Programs Australia

Iron and Steel Programs China

Iron and Steel Programs European Union

Iron and Steel Programs India

Iron and Steel Programs Japan

Iron and Steel Programs United States

Energy Management System Structure

Industrial energy efficiency can be greatly enhanced by effective management of the energy use of operations and processes. Experience shows that companies and sites with stronger energy management programs gain greater improvements in energy efficiency than those that lack procedures and management practices focused on continuous improvement of energy performance. Energy Management Systems (EnMSs) provide the framework to manage energy and promote continuous improvement. They establish assessment, planning, and evaluation procedures, which are critical for actually realizing and sustaining the potential energy efficiency gains of new technologies or operational changes.

There are a number of guidelines aimed at helping companies to establish an effective EnMS - including those from United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the recent ISO 50000 series of the International Standards Organization.

Although they may differ in their details, these guidelines promote continuous improvement of energy efficiency through: 

  • Organizational practices and policies;
  • Team development;
  • Planning and evaluation;
  • Tracking and measurement;
  • Communication and employee engagement; and;
  • Evaluation and corrective measures (US EPA, 2010)

The major elements of a strategic energy management system is depicted in the Figure. 

A sound energy management program is required to create a foundation for positive change and to provide guidance for managing energy throughout an organization. Continuous improvements to energy efficiency therefore typically only occur when a strong organizational commitment exists. Energy management programs help to ensure that energy efficiency improvements do not just happen on a one-time basis, but rather are continuously identified and implemented in a process of continuous improvement.

While EMSs can help organizations achieve greater savings through a focus on continuous improvement, they do not guarantee energy savings or carbon dioxide reductions alone. Combined with effective plant energy benchmarking and appropriate plant improvements, EMSs can help achieve greater savings. 

Iron and Steel Case Studies

OneSteel - EnMS Case Study

This case study examines how OneSteel is embedding energy efficiency into its core business processes. It describes OneSteel's approach to energy efficiency and the new systems and tools that were developed for the Sydney Steel Mills group and are now being rolled out across OneSteel. As a result, Onesteel are expected to achieve an annual energy saving of over 6% of total energy use through adopted savings opportunities identified by its assessments for the Energy Efficiency Opportunities program.

Iron and Steel Presentations


World Steel Association, 2012.


International Energy Agency (2009) Energy Technology Transitions for Industry.