Steel Mills

Steel Summit: Needham Sees Nucor Marching Into a Cleaner, More Diverse Future

Written by Ethan Bernard

Nucor executive Daniel Needham detailed at this year’s Steel Summit what’s on the horizon for the steelmaker as the company continues to diversify.

“The future is going to be different,” Needham, EVP of commercial for Nucor, said in a fireside chat with SMU managing editor Michael Cowden. “We are all looking for a cost-effective transition to a cleaner future.”

Regarding his past and how he got into steel, Needham said it all started with baseball, where he learned teamwork and leadership.

While enjoying his time as a pitcher at the University of Virginia, he knew his future lay elsewhere. With a focus on accounting, he became a CPA. After working in health care and manufacturing, he got a call from a recruiter from a company called Nucor.

“I was looking to contribute in a bigger way, and the opportunity to do that. That’s Nucor’s culture,” Needham said.

As to where to Charlotte, N.C.-based company is heading, he said, “We look at all opportunities where we see market trends will go.” Beyond just what the market dictates, Needham outlined the mission as given by Nucor chair, present and CEO Leon Topalian: “To grow the core; expand beyond; and live our culture.”

Needham touted Nucor’s capabilities to serve markets as diverse as automotive, offshore wind, rail cars, bridges, and military applications, among others.

“We’re evolving from being a steel manufacturer to being a diverse industrial manufacturer,” Needham said. He gave the example of construction, where Nucor’s diversification and downstream capabilities now allow it to insulate buildings or even supply garage doors.

When asked to look out five to 10 years ahead, he said the company would not ignore its core assets. Still, Nucor is about “expanding our product capabilities, moving up the value chain, getting increased margins, increased returns for our shareholders.”

He also spoke of opportunities for “adjacencies” that would be “somewhat outside of the cyclicality of the steel industry.”

Looking to the future of the industry and for society, he sees decarbonization as critical right now. But it’s nothing new for the company.

“Nucor has been leading industrial decarbonization for over 50 years,” Needham said, highlighting Nucor’s past in electric-arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking. “What is new,” he noted, “is the market is starting to demand that.”

Energy is needed for this process, he noted. And though he sees solar and wind playing a part, he believes solutions like Nucor’s NuScale small, modular nuclear reactors will have a larger role.

Needham said the technology is similar to a nuclear submarine’s reactor. Although the technology exists now, regulatory hurdles remain a challenge.

“As far as decarbonization, a lot of it is not in the technology, but how we do business here in the US and other parts of the world,” he said, specifying the need for transparency in regulations and even in defining what “green steel” is.

For a probable timeline for when the reactors would go online, he gave a forecast looking at the early 2030s.

Asked about where he sees the market for Econiq, Nucor’s line of net-zero carbon steel products, he said most of the talk has been about automotive. However, construction is also a part, but the conversation needs to be reframed to provide solutions to customers.

“No one wants ‘green’ rebar,” he joked, “but they do want a ‘green building.’”

The next chance to join the SMU steel community in person will be at the Tampa Steel Conference, Jan. 28-30, 2024.

Ethan Bernard

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