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American Structural Steel Meets Bill Gates' Sustainability Goals — 30 Years Early

March 1, 2021 - Bill Gates has been traveling the country promoting his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.

One of his key points is that the cement and steel industries contribute more than 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. He correctly points out that our future depends on cutting emissions and calls for the production of cleaner iron ore for use as feedstock for modern, clean, electric arc furnaces to produce steel rather than using older, dirtier, integrated mills.

Fortunately, America's structural steel industry began realizing Gates' dream in 1987, said the American Institute of Steel Construction in a news release.

Today, all of the more than 4 million tons of wide-flange beams produced in the United States come from electric arc furnaces. As a result, rather than depending on iron ore, more than 93% of the raw material comes from scrap and the main carbon emissions are from generating electricity, not from producing iron ore and coke, according to AISC.

Unlike other structural materials, steel is not only produced from recycled material, but is 100% recyclable with no loss of material properties.

"Whenever I give presentations to engineers and architects, they're often surprised to learn that American structural steel contains around 93% recycled material," said Charles J. Carter, P.E., S.E., Ph.D., president of the American Institute of Steel Construction. "By weight, steel is the most recycled and most sustainable material used in the building industry."

This contrasts with wood, whose proponents tout its ability to sequester carbon, said AISC, which said in a news release that using wood simply pushes the problem onto future generations.

AISC said that when a steel building or bridge reaches the end of its life, it is simply sent to a steel mill for recycling, but that waste from demolished wood buildings is either landfilled or incinerated. In either case, almost all of the carbon from the wood structure waste is released back into the atmosphere.

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