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Pittsburgh — Recent consolidation and new capacity in the US steel industry is spurring a faster move toward green steelmaking technologies, US steel industry executives said in a town hall discussion Sept. 30.

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The transition to more electric-arc-furnace-based (EAF) steelmaking in the US has been accelerated as a result of the coronavirus, Mark Millet, CEO of Steel Dynamics Inc. said at the event hosted by the Association for Iron and Steel Technology.

"It's a new era for American steel and you could actually see if coming to fruition prior to [COVID-19], I just think COVID is catalyzing it," he said. "...We're rationalizing and consolidating our industry."

Millet sees Cleveland-Cliffs' Sept. 28 agreement to acquire the bulk of ArcelorMittal's US integrated steel operations as a positive for the industry.

With Cliffs' acquisition of ArcelorMittal's US assets expected to close in the fourth quarter, the landscape of the industry will change, said David Stickler, CEO of Big River Steel.

"We're likely to end up with four 10 million to 15 million st/year flat-rolled steel producers," he said.

Cleveland-Cliffs – with its March purchase of AK Steel and announced ArcelorMittal buy – has embraced the more traditional form of integrated steelmaking, while Nucor and SDI have pioneered and embraced the EAF model. The partnership between US Steel and Big River Steel, formed in late 2019, has embraces a hybrid of EAF and integrated steelmaking, Stickler said.

"That's a healthy marketplace for customers, suppliers and investors," he added.

New mill projects coming online in the US and Cliffs' hot-briquetted iron facility under construction in Ohio will provide additional environmental benefits as older less-efficient capacity is replaced, panelists said. Currently roughly 70% of US steelmaking is greener EAF-based production.

Moving forward, Big River Steel is looking "very seriously" at renewable investments, Stickler said.

"We are being pushed by a number of our customers, including the European automakers," he said. "They recognize that our carbon footprint is world-class leading, but want us to get better."

Dan Needham, VP and GM of Nucor Steel Indiana, said a supplier is building a wind energy facility at Nucor's new micro-mill in Sedalia, Missouri, to help serve some of the energy requirements of that mill. Nucor also uses some hydro power at its mill in Seattle, he said.

"We look at emerging technologies all of the time," Needham said. "Were certainly looking at hydrogen, but it's a little bit early to say that's going to be successful in what they want to achieve in Europe."

Stickler said he expects the move to more renewable energy and the use of hydrogen in steelmaking to accelerate in the coming years as sustainability remains a focus for industries globally.

"Waiting 30 years to make an environmental impact is a joke," Stickler said. "If I said I was going to do something in 30 years, that means I'm not really going to do it. How about three years? How about five years? That's the timeframe we're looking at for Big River Steel."