Final Thoughts

Final thoughts

Written by Ethan Bernard

What does it mean to be a domestic steelmaker in the 21st century? Of course, that idea is open to interpretation. The vibrancy of the US industry is a testament to that. Between integrateds, EAFs, how to approach decarbonization, and downstream ventures, American innovation goes in many directions. Still, if you are interested in getting a glimpse of what the future in general might look like, there may be no better place to go than the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.

The festival brings together some of the world’s biggest players in areas as diverse as media, tech, education, healthcare, etc. Oh, and steel.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a panel at the festival given by Nucor. Now, a number of steelmakers in the US have explored avenues outside of strictly producing steel. And Nucor is definitely one of them.

Walking over to the venue in downtown Austin, I got the impression that this festival could be a bit different than steel conferences I’ve attended. Maybe it was the technicolor Ferris wheel or the ads for virtual reality salons that let me know this might be something with a twist.   

Tabitha Stine, Nucor’s general manager of energy solutions services, moderated a panel with a representative from the US Department of Energy, as well as an executive from both Microsoft and nuclear fusion research company Helion Energy.

Titled “Powering the Future of Clean Energy,” the panel highlighted how clean energy, and nuclear energy specifically, will play an integral part in supplying America’s future energy needs.

Nucor, partnered with Helion, reiterated the company’s goal to have a 500 mw nuclear fusion plant power a Nucor steelmaking facility by 2030.

While it may seem ambitious, this shows that many of the net-zero targets that seemed so far away are actually around the corner. And a lot of work is being done to bring ambitious goals from the theoretical down into reality.

Just from the companies and organizations presenting, I got an insight into the road leading into the future. Technology firms partnered with industry, and linked up with the government to deal with issues such as regulation and funding innovation. Also, there’s the matter of updating the country’s infrastructure and electric grid in which government at all levels will play a crucial role.

Now, in my opinion, crucial to any conference is the drinks reception afterward. And this one did not disappoint. However, unlike the AI conference I attended last year, this time I was flanked by hospitable Nucor execs to whom the words “rebar” and “hot rolled” did not elicit stares of confusion. A definite plus.

But I did pocket the card of someone from a robotics startup and talk to some Dutch folks involved in healthcare innovation. A very different crowd. Taking it all in, I made a note to myself. Yes, I will float up the chain the possibility of a futuristic Ferris wheel at Steel Summit, maybe even powered by renewable energy. But I can’t make any promises.

SMU Community Chat

Don’t forget to sign up for out next Community Chat on Wednesday, March 20, at 11 a.m. ET with Barry Zekelman, chairman and CEO of Zekelman Industries. You can register here.

And, as always, thanks to all of you for your continued support of SMU!

Ethan Bernard

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Final thoughts

Last week was a newsy one for the US sheet market. Nucor’s announcement that it would publish a weekly HR spot price was the talk of the town – whether that was in chatter among colleagues, at the Boy Scouts of America Metals Industry dinner, or in SMU’s latest market survey. Some think that it could Nucor's spot HR price could bring stability to notoriously volatile US sheet prices, according to SMU's latest steel market survey. Others think it’s too early to gauge its impact. And still others said they were leery of any attempt by producers to control prices.