Funding boost puts £35m into UK steel industry

A seven-year research programme aims to make the UK’s steel industry carbon-neutral by 2040 whilst simultaneously boosting jobs and increasing productivity by 15 per cent.

steel industry
The Advanced Imaging of Materials team at Swansea University have helped develop new steels which are strengthened by nano-level structures (Pic: Swansea University)

These are some of the goals of SUSTAIN, a £35m research network looking to transform the steel supply chain by making it greener, smarter, and more responsive to the fast-changing needs of customers.

Led by Swansea University, partnered with the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick, SUSTAIN involves over 20 partners across the UK steel industry made up of companies, trade bodies, academic experts and research organisations.  It is supported by a £10m investment from EPSRC.

According to Swansea University, SUSTAIN will focus on eliminating waste from iron and steelmaking and will look at new ways of making the industry’s processes and products more environmentally friendly. It will do this by looking at energy harvesting, capturing carbon emissions and re-processing societal and industrial waste streams. Similarly, SUSTAIN will develop new ways of acquiring and using vast amounts of data generated by steelmaking and using it in new metallurgical processes.

The work of SUSTAIN is projected to double UK steel manufacturers’ gross value added by 2030, boost jobs in the industry to 35,000, and increase productivity.

Dr Cameron Pleydell-Pearce, a steel expert at Swansea University and SUSTAIN’s deputy director, said: “This news is a massive vote of confidence in the steel industry.  It will support the industry’s vision for a responsible, innovative and creative future.  We are already on the road to clean, green and smart steelmaking, but this is another giant step forward.

“Research and innovation are the bedrock of a modern steel industry. This network represents almost the whole UK steel sector, with researchers and companies working together on an unprecedented scale.  Here in Swansea we’re proud to lead it.”

Today’s announcement marks the first time that UK steel producers and representatives from the manufacturing sector have lined up behind a co-ordinated programme of research.  It is also the largest ever single investment in steel research by a UK research council.  The plan is that SUSTAIN will be a seed from which much wider research and innovation will grow.

Prof Claire Davis, from WMG, University of Warwick comments: The UK has a rich tradition of research excellence and innovation in steel metallurgy. SUSTAIN will bring together leading research groups in this area, as well as introducing new expertise in big data and supply chain innovation, to work collaboratively with the UK industry.

“The network will be able to tackle the large issues facing the steel industry, particularly in becoming low energy, carbon neutral, dynamic and responsive to customer needs.  It is an exciting time to be working on steel as there are opportunities to contribute to making the planet a greener place.”