At first sight, Stainless Steel may seem an ordinary material but it is far more than that…
Today, Stainless Steel inscribes itself into structuring most households, hospitals, hotels, kitchens, etc. However, in its actual form, it is a relatively new material, with exciting sustainable features.
Steel production was only vulgarized during early 20th century, in UK when British engineer, Sir Henry Bessemer was the first to develop a cost-efficient method for producing steel, and it was first mass produced for the manufacture of railway tracks.
Basically, steel is the smart combination of Iron and Carbon. Carbon steel alloy is, to date, known to be among the strongest and most durable materials in modern construction and civil engineering industry. But some downsides were found to its all-round usage in the industry.
Even though basic carbon steels do not corrode in pure dry air at room temperature, they can still corrode, in moist and contaminated environments. When used in buildings and other civil structures, steel corrosion can become the reason behind structural failures that in turn, can result in fatal safety hazards.
In 1912 English engineer Harry Brearley came up with a newly formulated steel that contained chromium. In 1916 German engineers Benno Strauss and Eduard Maurer came up with the same idea. All three were granted independently the first patents for chromium-containing steels that didn’t rust, making stainless steel more than 100 years old.
From the beginning it was all about enjoying the same robust properties of carbon steel, while discarding its intrinsic disadvantages like rust forming and discoloration when exposed to everyday atmosphere. Thriving technology have since allowed other formulation that would incorporate other alloy elements such as manganese, or nickel into stainless production.
Stainless steels are now produced in various grades and support many essential applications in our modern world from transportation, buildings, bridges, water pipes and industrial processes to medical uses, food processing and preparation for their strength, toughness, durability, hygienic properties, and resistance to corrosion, heat, cold and blasts.
With such advantages over other metals, the consumption of stainless steel has exploded over the last 50 years. Around 51 million metric tons of Stainless Steel were produced in 2020, nearly half of which came from China only. It is widely used as a regular construction material for products that are bound to typical mechanical and environmental wear and tear.
More than 18% of the World’s total Stainless-Steel production is consumed by the construction sector. The automotive industry consumes around 12% of the world’s production, while home appliances account for almost 8%.
Such required level of global stainless-steel production raised essential environmental issues, especially over its energy-intensive production cycle. The next big question was about the material’s lifecycle and its capacity to assume optimized recycling.
Today, Stainless Steel, as opposed to plastic, is often preferred as the sustainable material of choice for a large variety of domestic and industrial applications because of their high recyclability index.
Recycling, in general, is highly beneficial, both economically and environmentally. In the stainless steel industry, related actions are focus towards minimising mining (primary production) and maximising recycling (secondary production) as they are the core principles of sustainable resource management.
In principle, and wherever product design and recycling technologies allow, stainless steels can be recycled infinitely. Scrap becomes a secondary precious raw material arising from manufacturing processes as well as from finished products at the end of their life.
Nowadays stainless-steel scrap has a high value which makes it very valuable at collecting and sorting. Reusing its valuable alloying elements reduces cost, positively affects resource depletion, mitigates environmental impacts and energy use.
For all these reasons Stainless Steel is said to have a high end-of-life recycling rate. This indicates how efficiently stainless steel is recycled from end-of-life products.
So today, considering stainless steel for construction, furniture or any other useful application is a step towards sustainable living where recycle, repair and reuse is at the centre of one’s lifestyle.