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Carbon Steel
Thursday | 16 April, 2015 | 12:13 pm

Cleanup equals cash

By Corinna Petry

Above: SSAB’s Montpelier, Iowa, plant partnered with the local utility to upgrade lighting fixtures for a 70 percent reduction in energy usage.

Nurturing a sustainable culture generates savings for SSAB Americas

April 2015 - Those who believe in karma believe the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence determines their fate in future lives. Therefore, good karma is believed to have a very long-lasting positive impact.

A company with two major U.S. steelmaking operations has reduced the flow of its waste to landfills, recovered additional metallic materials and assisted a state in its efforts to reclaim land by cleaning up illegal dump sites of old tires. These are just some of SSAB Americas’ environmental sustainability achievements over the past decade and a half. 

Striving for continuous improvement, “we have always looked at mechanisms and opportunities for projects from waste minimization to energy efficiency,” says Jon Howley, director-environment, for the Lisle, Illinois-based plate producer. “It is engraved into the mentality of the corporation.”

Howley cites half a dozen programs taking place at SSAB’s Mobile, Alabama, and Montpelier, Iowa, steel facilities.

The company launched a scrap tire recycling project in Alabama in 2003 that has resulted in the removal of 5 million scrap tires from illegal dump sites throughout the state. SSAB uses the scrap tires in its electric arc furnaces for their carbon content, as a carbon substitute. 

“We investigated the opportunity and ran pilot studies. After completing the studies it was obvious that the state of Alabama had an abundance of scrap tire material at multiple facilities,” says Howley. The company has a supplier that shreds scrap tires. The material provides about 15 percent of the carbon needed for each heat in which tires are used.

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In addition to working with its vendor, SSAB works with the state. Howley has served on Alabama’s scrap tire commission since 2008. “We meet semi-annually to discuss numerous projects related to cleaning up illegal dump sites of tires.”

SSAB’s recycling helps remove scrap tires “from problematic areas,” Howley says, noting that illegal dump sites “pose a number of issues—environmental contamination to streams and surrounding areas, and to human health. The sites are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and contain the threat of fire.”

The tire recycling program also led the company to create the SSAB Foundation for Education, under which 10 Alabama schools receive a combined $100,000 per year that goes toward computers and other learning resources. Since the foundation’s inception, SSAB has donated more than $800,000 to schools.

Metal recovery 

Under SSAB’s Scrap Metal Waste Recycling program, the company regularly audits what it has in each section of the scrap yard and screens out dirt and iron oxide (called “fines”) from valuable steel scrap and slag—material that all used to be dumped at a landfill before the screening and recovery process was in use.

“We have segregation processes on site to recover more from the piles. We first ran trials and finally got to a good, sustainable process,” Howley says. “There is heavy prescreening for larger pieces of scrap. The remaining material goes through a slag processing plant to further refine, and that segregates the remaining material into different commodities.

“Good recycled scrap is a treasure; we pay a premium for it and we would like to get it back,” he notes.

The benefit is reflected in the 11,593 annual tons of scrap metal—rising to a 39 percent recovery rate—that’s been recycled just since upgrading the recovery process at the yard in 2012.

General trash 

From its plants and offices, the company recycles paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, copper wire, ink cartridges, electronics, oil, filters, wood and cardboard. The company diverts 385 tons of recyclables in Alabama from landfills annually and the Iowa plant diverts “about 75 percent of that number,” according to Howley. 

“That is 30 to 35 percent of the waste stream,” says Steve Hansen, SSAB’s vice president and chief technical officer. This program was launched in Iowa in 1998 and in Alabama in 2001. The reduction in trash means fewer trips to the landfill, saving on diesel fuel and disposal fees. Over time, SSAB has recovered 81,100 pounds of recyclable cardboard, 246,760 pounds of wood and 9,830 pounds in water bottles and cans in Alabama.

Together with carbon and stainless steel and aluminum scrap, the company has diverted more than 3.07 million pounds of material from landfills.

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Dust and bricks

The company also has an EAF Baghouse Dust Recycling program. “From both facilities combined we ship on average 50,000 tons per year to a recycling facility. As it relates to recovered zinc oxide and other byproducts generated, like slag, that is in their wheelhouse,” Howley says of SSAB’s partner in this program. 

Used in furnaces and ladles, refractory bricks are the insulating lining that separates molten steel from the equipment itself. As the bricks age and deteriorate, they have to be removed, segregated and then processed. 

“At Alabama, we use a similar process as we use for recycling scrap metal waste,” says Howley. “You remove any steel that’s residually attached and you remove fines. From that point, you have a process to clean the brick and place it in railcars to a refractory brick manufacturer that uses recycled material to make new brick. They crush and grind and use it instead of buying raw materials,” he says. 

Electricity

At its steel production and downstream processing plants, SSAB has sought ways to become more energy efficient. In Iowa, for example, the company partnered with its utility, MidAmerican Energy Co., which provides economic incentives for industrial customers to upgrade fixtures and replace energy-hungry machinery or motors.  

Numerous sections of each plant are illuminated with fluorescent and LED fixtures that cut energy consumption by nearly 70 percent compared with conventional lighting fixtures. Many fixtures have motion sensors so they only light up when the space is occupied.

“Each facility works hard to identify energy efficiency projects,” says Howley. “Lighting is one of the more obvious projects. It improves the work environment, so there is a safety benefit as well.”

In Iowa, the utility sends out a third-party auditor to help customers identify potential energy consumption improvements, and gives a rebate to those who adopt the recommendations. 

Results, renewal

SSAB says it has saved nearly $6 million through its environmental sustainability efforts. The company continually looks at ways to become greener. “We evaluate opportunities based on landfilling and waste streams and see where the largest volumes go off-site now and what may become a project. It’s a progressive task,” says Howley. 

Hansen says Howley is the right leader for this, having earned a black belt in Six Sigma quality programs. Companywide, “we have seven full-time black belts and in excess of 100 green belts doing continuous improvement projects across all of our operations.”

SSAB does not have a specific financial target for environmental cost savings, but “these savings are ongoing and the idea is to sustain and grow the amount [saved],” Howley says.

Karma for kids

When SSAB launched the scrap tire project at Mobile, “we wanted to link the benefits to some community effort. So we identified local schools where we could provide an impact” through the Foundation for Education, Howley says. Ten  elementary, middle and high schools receive a total of $100,000 each year.

“We meet with the schools. They are required to provide specific educational projects that we apply the money to. The projects can range from development of computer labs to library upgrades to “purchasing a stage for the drama department,” he says.

Globally, Stockholm, Sweden-based SSAB has a strong sustainability and environmental policy focused on products, says Hansen. “And we do a lot with our customers to make their products more energy efficient, lighter, stronger and more sustainable.”

Time will tell whether SSAB’s responsible, enlightened present helps to preserve healthy communities and a continued livelihood for its own people in the future. MM

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