The resilience of stainless steel in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a dramatically challenging year for everyone, both in their personal and professional lives. The stainless steels industry has managed to show a high level of determination and resilience. During 2020, stainless steel consumption fell by just 2% compared to 2019, however there were significant regional differences. China saw an overall increase in consumption of 6.5%, whilst other regions of the world saw falls in consumption of between 11.3% and 12.6%. The industry adopted many robust measures to both safeguard its employees and their families, whilst managing their operational activities to ensure that vital industry sectors were not affected by downstream material shortages. 

As the world begins to slowly emerge from the pandemic, the future demand for an environmentally friendly family of products is looking positive and it is clear that the immediate demand for stainless steels is recovering swiftly. The outlook for 2021 is a forecast global growth in demand of between 9.0% and 10.0%. 

There is no doubt that stainless steels are one of the most sustainable of materials available today. They are manufactured with high recycled content (above 80% in many cases), have low GHG emissions, and routinely offer the lowest life-cycle costs of any available materials. Stainless steels, when correctly specified, will provide service lives of greater than 100 years with minimal or zero maintenance. They have amazing hygienic properties, supreme corrosion resistance which when combined with their strength characteristics provide an opportunity for significant material light-weighting which few other materials can match. They are also incredibly simple to recycle at their end-of-life and do not carry the need for extensive processing to make them ‘recycling ready’. 

The International Stainless Steel Forum (ISSF) has focused heavily during 2020 on promoting all these features of stainless steels through both its market development work and well-attended educational webinars which were designed to both raise the level of understanding of stainless steels across the global community and show how stainless steels can effectively tackle the biggest environmental challenges being faced over the next 100 years. The association has also commissioned work to robustly and academically demonstrate that stainless steels remain one of the safest of materials, from a human toxicity perspective, we have on our planet. This work is one part of our wider programs to evidence all the safe credentials of stainless steels.  Furthermore, the ISSF is currently renewing their life-cycle inventory data set during 2021, with a broader material grade range than in previous studies to further illustrate the low emissions and low manufacturing energy characteristics of their family of products. 

Courtesy of International Stainless Steel Forum.
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