[Herald Interview] ‘Despite challenges, steel key for sustainable future’

By Kim Bo-gyung

Worldsteel chief urges steelmakers to face slower demand, make industry more eco-friendly for sustainable future

  • Published : Apr 8, 2018 - 17:36
  • Updated : Apr 8, 2018 - 17:36

After years of prosperity, the steel industry is facing slower demand due to market saturation and the increasing reuse of steel amid rising concerns over its impact on the environment.

Director general of World Steel Association Edwin Basson (World Steel Association)

Steelmakers around the world, however, should face these challenges and join efforts to convince customers that the metal product still remains the foundation of a sustainable future, said the head of World Steel, an organization representing the global steel industry.

“Steel remains an exceptional product in terms of sustainability. (Steel) being a 100 percent and infinitely recyclable makes it the foundation of a sustainable future,” said Edwin Basson, the director general of World Steel Association, in an email interview with The Korea Herald.

“However, with intense competition from other materials, the industry will need to continue working to convince its customers and society at large of its environmental advantages,” he said, referring to research efforts in progress aimed at reducing energy use and carbon emissions.

And South Korea, the sixth-largest steel producer in the world, is no exception.

Asia‘s fourth-largest economy accounted for 4.2 percent of global steel output in 2016 from 0.1 percent 50 years ago. On a per capital basis, South Korea’s steel demand was the highest in the world in 2016 with 1,130.2 kilograms per person, followed by China with 782.1 kg per person.

South Korea is the second highest net exporter of steel containing goods after Germany. Two Korean companies, Posco and Hyundai Steel, are listed among the world’s top 20 steel producers.

In the recent years, however, China’s supply glut flooding the global steel industry with cheap goods and the rise of Indian steel have posed new challenges for South Korean steel producers.

“One thing that all steel producers should be aware of is the impact of the circular economic model on steel demand ... As an industry it is likely that we will need to deal with slower demand growth for steel on a continuous basis,” he said.

The product life cycle of steel-containing goods is expected to increase largely due to the growing reuse and remanufacturing of steel, while steel makers have advanced to produce a smaller volume of steel, ultimately leading to a drop in demand.

Global steel production rose 2.6 percent year-over-year in 2017 to some 6.3 million tons.

In the long-term, the Brussels-based organization projects that the global steel output would contract through 2035.

“Korean steel makers will need to adapt to meet challenges in the future, but can be sure that the product they work with continues to have a bright future,” he said.

Recalling his visit to Posco’s steel mill in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, Basson said, “In addition to its scale I remember being impressed by its safety, cleanliness and efficiency. I am delighted by the Korean contribution to showcasing our industry as safe, clean and at the cutting-edge of technological development.”

Boasting its top notch technology, Posco’s eco-friendly reusable steel products were used in facilities for the PyeongChang Olympics.

Posco’s steel products used to build the PyeongChang International Broadcast Center, dubbed Pos-H was made by welding hot-rolled steel coils and plates, the company said. 

The changing industry paradigm fueled by the advent of digitalization and the “fourth industrial revolution” will open new opportunities for steelmakers.

”We are making great progress in reducing our energy use and carbon emissions per ton of steel produced, and research into revolutionary steelmaking techniques that will reduce future CO2 emissions continues,“ he said. ”Future society will be able to depend on steel, but we in the industry need to make sure that our material gets the recognition it deserves.“ 

Basson joined Worldsteel in August 2011 as director general after working at ArcelorMittal as vice president of marketing and trade policy.

By Kim Bo-gyung (