Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Written by Michael Cowden

At every Steel Summit, a few themes seem to emerge that I didn’t anticipate.

In 2021, I remember the theme being that scrap would be the next precious metal. (And also that Cleveland-Cliffs planned to expand into the scrap market.)

This year, I expected that there would be a lot of discussion about decarbonization. What I didn’t entirely expect was that we’d be talking so much about electricity and power generation.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’re looking to electrify not only steelmaking and vehicles but entire economies.

As far as steel goes, that meant more talk about electrical steels than I recall at any past Steel Summit.

U.S. Steel recently started up a new electrical steel line at its Big River Steel mill in Osceola, Ark. But company chief commercial office Ken Jaycox was quick to say that one new line alone wouldn’t be enough to meet anticipated demand.

Will other mills get into electrical steels? Ternium Mexico president Cesar Jimenez and Nucor executive vice president of commercial Dan Needham didn’t rule it out.

When it comes to power generation, speakers generally agreed that all options should be on the table.

North Star BlueScope Steel president Conrad Winkler, who served in the US Navy on a nuclear submarine, stressed that nuclear should be among the options for decarbonizing our energy supply.

That turned out to dovetail well with comments from Needham, who noted that Nucor has been looking hard at small modular nuclear reactors to power its mills.

But that might not happen until ~2030. The catch is not the technology or the know-how. Those are all available now. It’s a sometimes byzantine permitting process, he said.

I wasn’t shocked to hear that. Opinions around nuclear can vary sharply from one country to the next. France has wholeheartedly embraced nuclear energy. In Sweden, the Green Party – more of a force there than in the US – was founded in opposition to nuclear power.

The US is somewhere in between. We’re still haunted to some extent by the narrowly averted disaster Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

There are also big regulatory and permitting hurdles to less controversial sources of energy – such as offshore wind.

Could we see a seismic shift in politics – perhaps both parties agreeing on something?! – to push forward a decarbonization goal all seem to share.

I don’t know. So I asked the Magic 8 Ball that has featured somewhat prominently at this conference.

The answer surprised me. I’ve been getting noncommittal answers from the thing all conference. This time I got two very definitive answers: “Very Doubtful” and “Yes Definitely.”

Which is correct? Or is the 8-Ball trying to communicate something more subtle than the 20 answers it has at its disposal. “Very Doubtful” in the near term but “Yes, Definitely” over the long term?

I hope that’s the case.

PS – Thanks to everyone attending Steel Summit today for your engagement and the great questions. I look forward to the last day of the conference, we’ve got another strong agenda.

Check it out here. And think of some good questions tonight.

Michael Cowden

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What's the tea in the steel industry this week? Here's the latest SMU gossip column! Just kidding... kind of. Yes, some of the comments we receive in our weekly flat-rolled market steel buyers' survey are honestly too much to put into print. Some make us laugh. Some make us cringe. Some are cryptic. Most are serious. We appreciate them all. Below are some highlights from our survey results this week. Some of the comments that we can share with you are also included, in italics, in the buyers' own words, with minimal editing on our part.