To ensure that raw materials and energy are used most effectively is undoubtedly a winning
strategy in the society of the future. It covers everything from smarter applications
supported by improved products through efficient production and increased use of residues
to the sensible use of key resources such as metals, minerals and water. Metallic
materials have the advantage that they can be recycled, theoretically endlessly. For steel
and aluminum, the recycled fraction and the quality of the recycled material are both of
great importance for the overall resource efficiency. Enhanced recycling techniques and
systems that ensure metallic materials are used in the best possible way within the cycle
are therefore a priority. Here, the Swedish recycling industry is following an important
Better knowledge of how raw materials can be interchanged, and how raw materials
and energy can be substituted for each other, makes it possible to choose the most
efficient process route in any particular case. By utilizing knowledge from materials
development and functional requirements, and developing better measurement and
control methods based on modern IT and tailored to the people who use them, processes
can be optimized for higher yields and more efficient energy and material use.
This means not only using energy efficiently in a specific process, but also being able to
define proper boundary conditions by understanding how energy and material interact
in and flow across process steps. The ability to reuse materials within the process chain
has further increased the potential in this respect.
Resource efficiency also includes the ability to take advantage of all useful metal sources,
and several interesting methods for metal recycling have been developed in recent
years. Rising raw materials prices increases the driving force to try out new techniques
for extraction and refinement.
Metals production uses large amounts of energy. Some of this is turned into residual
energy of a lower quality. Ensuring that the temperature of the extracted heat is as high
as possible increases the potential for re-using this thermal energy.
But perhaps the most important question is being able to see the big picture. In order
to minimize the total resources when people require a certain function, it is necessary
to understand how resources are used in the entire chain of processing and utilization,
and this knowledge needs to be translated into action where it does the most good. It is
quite conceivable that resource efficiency can actually be improved by using more energy
and raw materials in metals production, if this improves efficiency later in the chain.
Stronger materials for lighter vehicles or improved corrosion protection for longer life
are simple examples of this concept. In order to understand more complex relationships
and avoid sub-optimization, improved models are needed of where, when and in what
quantity various resources are used. The goal is that the industry will use the necessary
resources as efficiently as possible to maximize resource efficiency in a lifecycle perspective.
One way to increase the overall resource efficiency is to utilize the full potential of
waste energy. To exploit these opportunities, however, requires broader system boundaries,
collaboration across sectors and in some cases, changes in legislation.
The goal is that the Swedish metal industry should be a global leader in the use of all
resources in such a way as to maximize resource efficiency in a life cycle perspective.