Making India the Clean Durable Metals Hub

The world today invariably enters a new paradigm every day. The versatility offers new challenges and opportunities on a daily basis, and often in the form of intensifying progressions of certain long-standing priorities.

One such long-standing priority, and the most pressing one of our times, remains the need to adapt our lives and societies to the changing climate. The priority gets exacerbated by the status-quo of our socio-industrial complex which maintains a continuous priority to build and power economic life, while the world grapples to find the materials and power-sources which can build and power this economic life in a sustainable manner.

As we realise a focus and progress in finding renewable solutions for powering our economic life (clean energy missions), we need to maintain an equal focus for identifying and developing materials which can also ‘build’ a more sustainable economic life (i.e., clean materials missions)

Our requirement to build and make things – realised through our Manufacturing and construction industries – undoubtedly accounts for the lion’s share of global green-house gas emissions. In this complex, metals form a key component of the raw materials used in our broad-based manufacturing and construction activities, and in those metals, (carbon) steel continues to be one of the most widely used. Therefore, as we focus our capacities to explore alternate materials to build a more sustainable economic life – and metals continue to be one of our key materials – we may want to draw our attention to stainless-steel.

Of late, for over a decade, stainless steel has become a more preferred option in infrastructure applications, not only in coastal areas but also in water distribution post filtration, where it prevents water loss due to leakage, saving nearly 24% of water. Stainless steel is also widely used in bridges, rail coaches, and various fittings due to its remarkable sturdiness and non-corrosive properties.

Developed in the early 20th century in an attempt to find more efficient alternatives to carbon steel, stainless steel has been often touted as a more sustainable alternative to carbon steel due to its inherent features of durability, recyclability, and resistance to corrosion.

In essence, stainless steel offers a greater life cycle in-comparison to its peers, which in-turn reduces quantity of material deployment, consequentially reducing the potential environmental impact. The material also offers a similar value proposition in terms of its strength, which has resulted into its growing adoption with more than 25 different industries using stainless steel in their offerings.

However, in the context of accepting stainless steel as one of the metals for the future, there are two areas which demand our attention.

The first is further enhancing the environmental friendliness of stainless steel – in-terms of ensuring a low emission origin of the metal – and the second is its adoption – in-terms of identifying and resolving lacunas hindering its adoption.

In terms of enhancing the environmental friendliness of the metal, we need to promote measures which can reduce the usage of traditional fossil fuel-based production methodologies (such as coal-based blast furnaces) and in-turn look towards enhancing adoption of production processes which leverage cleaner-energy materials such as electric arc furnace (EAF) or Directly-reduced Iron methodologies. These measures can ensure that the final-sustainable-products also come with an added advantage of a cleaner-origin, which in-turn reduces the overall impact further.

In this regard, interventions are required by all players in the ecosystem in-terms of the Government providing the right policy-frameworks for enhancing and incentivising the availability and accessibility to the supply-chains for cleaner production methodologies; and the private-sector keeping an open-mind towards exploring the adoption of these emerging methodologies.

What has been heartening to see in India is that we are realising gradual progress across both these fronts, with the Government facilitating the right policy frameworks through the Green Hydrogen Mission and the Green Steel Policy vision by the Ministries of Power and Steel respectively; as well as leading private-players across stainless steel and carbon-steel segments announcing concrete plans for creating green-steel supply-chains.

As we progress forward with this reality, greater outcomes may be realised through exploring mechanisms which can facilitate greater coordination between the Industry and the Government for the greening of the supply-chains.

The second area of focus may be understanding hindrances for adoption of stainless-steel. At an oversimplified/condensed level, two key challenges can be identified which hinder the adoption of stainless steel – (comparatively) greater ease of use/diverse use for carbon steel, and cost-competitiveness of carbon steel.

Innovation is key

Carbon steel as a metal existed for the times as we’ve known them, with origins as far back as 1,800 B.C.E in China. This led to a timeline of centuries wherein the industry innovated with the metal allowing them to acquire the understanding and desire for reducing the cost of its production and improving/enhancing its characteristics for more use across industry.

In comparison, stainless-steel as a metal stayed in the laboratories/experiments between the late 16th to early 20th century and had a significantly lower commercial timeline than its carbon peer. Therefore, there is a need to artificially fuel the research and innovation timeline for the stainless-industry which can be achieved by the Government by defining a research-and-innovation agenda for the stainless steel and broader cleaner metals segment.

There are of-course diverse value-propositions for the Government to promote such an R&D vision for clearer-and-greener metals, as it sustains the competitiveness of our metals industry, which will have to compete against global peers against the environmental standards of their products, realised most recently in the context of the Carbon Border Tax.

As the world increasingly moves towards a scenario where it is seeking cleaner alternatives to its status-quo, India can play a key role in translating its heritage of being one of the key metals and mining products providers, to one of the key providers of clean metals to the world.

  • Published On Jul 7, 2023 at 02:19 PM IST

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