Steel in China: A Whole of Life Approach

LCA and Steel Seminar 2012

Given the worldwide push toward sustainable building and construction, it hardly comes as a surprise that environmental considerations are becoming increasingly pertinent in the selection of building materials.

Equally unsurprising, given China’s status as the world’s largest steel producer, greenhouse gas emitter and fastest-growing big economy, is the fact that a significant amount of focus surrounding green building materials is shifting toward the Middle Kingdom.

Already, much progress has been made. In buildings such as the 15-storey Arch Hotel, for example, the use of pre-fabricated steel and concrete, as well as a number of energy savings measures such as quadruple-glazed windows and energy-saving lights, have been cited as sustainable features that were incorporated into the building. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that the building was constructed from the ground up in just six days.

In this regard, an increasing area of focus revolves around the life cycle of building materials, with an eye to the environmental impact of a material through all stages of its life, including raw materials and manufacturing/production, use and eventual disposal or recycling.

As evidence of the extent of this push, the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for Steel Seminar hosted by the World Steel Association (WSA) and the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) in Beijing on July 19 attracted almost 100 participants from a group that included steel manufacturers, their customers, government officials, academia and media.

LCA and Steel Seminar 2012 conferrence

At the seminar, which focused on the role of LCA in evaluating the sustainability of steel with a particular focus on the automotive and construction sectors in China, representatives from the steel-making industry acknowledged the importance of adopting a whole-of-life approach toward building materials and environmental sustainability.

“The Chinese steel industry recognises the need for life cycle assessment and the importance of considering all phases of a product cycle – production, manufacture, the use phase and end-of-life recycling and disposal – leading to a true picture of the environmental consequences of material choice,” says Dr. Xiaogang Zhang, WSA chairman and president of Angang Steel Company, mainland China’s second largest steel producer. “This makes LCA essential for the sustainable development of the Chinese economy.”

WSA says the seminar is part of a range of initiatives it is adopting to promote and further LCA within the industry. Among other things, the industry body has developed a global sector database for life cycle inventory data, which outlines the environmental profile of 16 key products from across the spectrum of steel production. It is also a sponsor of the United Nations Environmental Program Life Cycle Initiative.

WSA director general Dr. Edwin Basson says the concept of LCA is gaining increasing traction not just in China, but throughout the world.

“LCA is increasingly proposed as the basis for environmental regulation and standards worldwide and I am particularly impressed with the high level of interest and proactive participation from Chinese companies,” Basson says. “Life cycle thinking is vital for a sustainable future.”

By Andrew Heaton
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