Innovation made from steel: Harder, more durable and cleaner than ever

Innovation made from steel: Harder, more durable and cleaner than ever

Innovations secure tomorrow’s wealth. Without forward-looking technologies, society and economy come to a standstill. That is why the steel sector, just like any other sector, has to continue to reinvent itself and pave the way for future-oriented developments.

Research institutes across Germany are working continuously on new steel-related technologies. They are in accordance with a long tradition. For example, in 1912 the two German researchers Eduard Maurer and Benno Strauß made a discovery that would profoundly change Germany and the world: they developed rust- proof or “stainless” steel. The development of a rust-proof steel revolutionised navigation, bridge engineering – even coffee-making, come to think of Italian espresso makers. Had stainless steel been available earlier, the Golden Gate Bridge would not sport its iconic coat of orange anti-rust paint. Stainless steel makes products more durable. Hence, it has a positive effect on the environment. It also offers enormous advantages to sectors, in which hygiene regulations are of the essence – be it in brewing, or medicine or the production or storage of food stuffs.

German companies, too, do research – companies in medical engineering, the automotive or aircraft manufacturing. Their scientists optimise the weight and durability of steel. And they are working to reduce the energy it takes to produce it – and they do so successfully.

According to the German Steel Federation (WV Stahl), the “production of one ton of raw steel requires 15 per cent less energy today than it did 25 years ago.” However, steel products are expected to perform differently, too, and qualities such as increased durability and corrosion resistance in turn lead to producers expending more energy in production. Nevertheless, this has no detrimental effect on the climate, because “highly innovative steel, if utilised for instance in an automotive product, can save six times as much CO2 during its product lifetime as is released during its production, Hans Jürgen Kerkhoff of the German Steel Federation explains. And steel is not only ahead regarding CO2 emissions, but because of the fact that it can be recycled 100 per cent it is a highly sustainable and energy-efficient commodity. 

At the Düsseldorf Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung steel also takes centre stage. Together with international experts, the institute has developed steel with bone-like properties. This new kind of steel is resistant to fissures in the material, which means that it is fatigue-resistant and, hence, better able to withstand stress, more durable, and most of all safer. Steel products of this kind are particularly interesting to the mobility sector: mobility – be it in cars, on trains, ships or planes – is becoming ever safer.

Our infrastructure, too, benefits from steel innovations: in October 2016, a hot-galvanised steel bridge opened on the A44 Autobahn between Kassel and Eisenach. Its corrosion resistance of one hundred years means that the bridge will require its first maintenance works only in the year 2116. By now, a number of such bridges exist throughout Germany.

This goes to show: there is no shortage of ideas on the topic of steel in Germany. 2015 around 4300 steel- related patents were registered in Germany – that makes nearly twelve patents per day.