Steel Mills

Tampa Steel: SSAB Americas' Schmitt highlights sustainability

Written by Ethan Bernard

The head of SSAB Americas talked about the company’s commitment to sustainability and lowering carbon emissions at the Tampa Steel Conference 2024.

SSAB said in a 2008 mission statement that it would work toward a “stronger, lighter, more sustainable world.” That statement “couldn’t be more valid today,” Chuck Schmitt, president of SSAB Americas, told SMU managing editor Michael Cowden in a Fireside Chat on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

Sustainable steel

Schmitt gave two products as concrete examples of that goal being realized. The first: SSAB Zero, which was announced in 2023, is made from recycled raw materials, and sports no carbon emissions. He also talked about SSAB’s fossil-free steel initiative, launched in 2016.

Another example: SSAB has a pilot plant in Oxelösund, Sweden, that has been operating since 2019-20 and that makes trial quantities of fossil-free steel. Already, thousands of tons of SSAB Zero steel have been shipped to customers in Europe, Schmitt said. Schmitt said.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize our team’s efforts,” he added.

Case in point: At SSAB Americas’ Montpelier, Iowa, plate mill, the company cast its first SSAB Zero steel in January 2023. And GE Vernova, GE’s renewable energy subsidiary, has agreed to begin prototyping onshore wind towers using the SSAB Zero steel.

SSAB also operates another plate mill in Mobile, Ala.

Green premiums

When asked if customers would be willing to pay a premium for steel with fewer carbon emissions, Schmitt was unequivocal.

“Yes, for sure,” he said, noting that the some low-carbon products were still in the R&D stage. “There is a premium for added costs in order to make the product and get it to market.

He added that firms willing to pay would be “companies that share our vision of being first movers.”

Additionally, he said that carbon credits wouldn’t be necessary for producing SSAB Zero, and that it would be a “true net zero product.”

He said the mill in Iowa takes advantage of the Green Advantage Program with MidAmerican Energy, a Des Moines, Iowa-based utility. Through that program, ~98% of electricity for the Iowa mill comes from renewable sources.

Outlook and workforce availability

Schmitt was also bullish on the outlook for plate in 2024. He sees “strong fundamentals for plate this year,” citing infrastructure spending and the renewable energy sector, as well as increasing demand for plate in industrial products.

Regarding whether federal infrastructure money is already flowing in, Schmitt said, “Activity is picking up for quotes and inquiries.”

Also, he was unfazed by recent announcements of some project cancellations in the offshore wind sector due to inflationary pressures and supply chain snarls. “We still think it’s a viable market in the future,” he said, noting that the technology has been proven. He believes many projects “will be reframed and renegotiated reflective of market dynamics today.”

One issue that might prove more challenging to solve: American manufacturing in general is facing a worker shortage. And it’s challenging to come up with a “steel solution” to that problem.

“I come from four generations of steelmaking in Pittsburgh,” he said. “I take a personal interest in recruiting everywhere we can.”

To that end, SSAB Americas is involved in outreach programs in middle schools and high schools, and Schmitt said the company remains competitive with wages and health-care benefits.

“We have to step up, and we will step up,” he said. “We have a good story going on.”

Ethan Bernard

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