Delivering steel’s circular economy potential
Extracts and a link to an article I helped write
This post includes a couple of extracts from a September IStructE article I contributed to. The article explains that steel reuse is now a viable low-carbon option for all parties to a project, and offers perspectives of contractor, steel producer, fabricator, engineer and client. You can download the article for free via the button below and then clicking ‘access resource’.
Since Michal Drewniok’s article in The Structural Engineer (March 2021) entitled ‘Enabling steel’s circular economy potential’, awareness of design solutions with lower embodied carbon has increased significantly.
Implementation of the proposed Part Z of the Building Regulations would be a watershed moment for the UK construction industry, while the ongoing whole-lifecycle carbon assessment required under the London Plan is driving significant embodied carbon benchmarking. In September 2021, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy dramatically increased the shadow pricing for government- funded project appraisals, with a central cost rising from £27/t to £248/t.
With the significant shift towards calculating and reporting embodied carbon, alongside significant utilisation of carbon shadow pricing to drive lower-carbon designs, formal taxation in one form or another is rapidly approaching.
Where reused steel can be utilised on site for temporary works or tested for utilisation
in permanent works, dramatic emission reductions can be achieved. This article stress tests the technical guidance outlined in SCI P427 (Structural steel reuse) and presents
five perspectives on how a collaborative approach and joined-up supply chain can allow the carbon savings associated with reuse of structural steel elements to quickly become a reality within our industry.
In conclusion, if all necessary procedures have been followed and the building cannot be refurbished, there are no technical barriers to deconstructing the asset and maintaining structural steel elements at their highest value state for utilisation in temporary or permanent works. This may also be possible for other materials, although the challenges may be greater. The cost gap between scrappage value and the purchase of new steel also provides a significant financial incentive leading to an overall cost-neutral position.
Testing and quality control procedures are clearly articulated within the BCSA specification and SCI reuse protocol, and structural engineers are suitably agile to respond to limited sizes that may be available in the short-to-medium term, while stockholders build their inventories.
While a building formed from 100% reused steel is the ideal, mixing and matching is perfectly reasonable, allowing fabricators to seek out the lower-carbon sections where available.
From today, any stakeholder on a project needs to collaborate and drive circular economy principles by:
challenging and setting the brief early alongside engagement with the supply chain
being flexible on programme, procurement and price – or the mechanisms behind these
deconstructing – it’s not just about buying materials but also putting them into the market
focusing on the long term when making decisions
sharing their experiences with the industry.
The cultural change required to think differently and break down perceived blockers is vital. With significant global price volatility and international supply chain uncertainty, the time is right to embrace the reuse of structural steel and to realise the significant embodied carbon savings available from our historic assets.
Other contributors: David Leversha, David Moylan, Bill Firth, Nigel Moss.