Circular Economy Contributions to Decarbonizing the US Steel Sector

Julien Walzberg, Alberta Carpenter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The potential benefits of the circular economy (CE) for decarbonization have recently attracted much attention in the academic and grey literature. The department of energy (DOE) industrial decarbonization roadmap highlight that in addition to the four pillars (energy efficiency, electrification, low-carbon fuels, feedstocks, and energy sources, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)) identified in the roadmap, "scenarios [...] will need to be developed that incorporate materials efficiency and circular economy strategies". Moreover, the roadmap identifies hard-to-abate CO2 emissions across the five industrial subsectors included in the analysis (iron & steel, chemical, food & beverage, refining, and cement manufacturing). Thus, additional options to decarbonize the industrial sector, like the CE, could prove beneficial to address those hard-to-abate emissions. Moreover, they may be less costly, require less R&D or incentives, and be more readily adopted than other strategies such as energy efficiency and CCUS. While the Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap includes some CE strategies (e.g., the increasing market share of steel from electric arc furnaces - which incorporate steel scrap), a deeper dive into what role the CE could play in the United States (US) industrial decarbonization is needed. In this work, we present several industrial decarbonization scenarios that incorporate materials efficiency and circular economy strategies for the iron & steel subsector. The scenarios identify barriers (including technical limits and constraints), opportunities, and R&D needs.Moreover, we estimate the contribution of those scenarios to reducing the industrial sector's CO2 emissions and their potential synergies with the Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap's four pillars. Iron & steel manufacturing was responsible for 90 million tons of industrial CO2 emissions in 2020 - 7% of the industrial sector's total process- related emissions. Besides recycling - which presents technical limitations due to trace contaminants - CE strategies on the demand side could lower iron & steel manufacturing emissions (e.g., the development of lighter products or business models that encourage a more intensive use). This study reviews barriers, opportunities, and trade-offs for 5 material efficiency strategies. Many topics explored in the review call for further research.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationTechnology Innovation for the Circular Economy: Recycling, Remanufacturing, Design, Systems Analysis and Logistics
EditorsN. Nasr
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CH-6A20-90213


  • barriers
  • circular economy
  • industrial decarbonization
  • iron & steel
  • material efficiency
  • opportunities
  • trade-offs


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