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image European Research News Centre > Energy > Steel has a tough life
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image image image Date published: 07/11/02
  image Steel has a tough life
RDT info 35
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  Despite competition from new materials, steel – or perhaps more accurately ‘steels’, given the many forms developed to meet different requirements – is and will remain an essential component of our technological environment. Thanks to constant efforts to adapt and innovate within the ECSC, Europe is a world leader on today’s steel market. This enviable position requires a continuation of the research effort made over past decades.
   
     
   

The Union produces more than 60 million tonnes of raw steel every year, or 20% of world production. Faced with increasingly keen international competition, over the past three decades this key sector has experienced a wave of restructuring and concentration, coupled with technological modernisation on a large scale.

New jobs and technology

The European steel industry currently employs 277 000 workers. In 1952, when the ECSC was created, the six Common Market countries employed half a million steelworkers, producing 40 million tonnes of steel. In 1973, when the sector began to experience a crisis, the steel industry employed 774 000 workers producing 10 million tonnes below the present figure.

The ECSC played a vital role in the essential process of change in the steel industry, in two respects. At the social level, Community efforts to provide retraining meant little unemployment among former steelworkers. At the technological level, support for research was a key catalyst in permitting the modernisation of the whole production line and satisfying environmental demands.

Pioneering

‘The ECSC played a pioneering role that foreshadowed the concept of the European Research Area by opting for integration, which enabled three generations of scientists and engineers to learn to work and innovate together,’ stressed European Commissioner Philippe Busquin last June at a conference which took stock of progress in the steel sector to date and looked ahead to future steel research.

The ECSC programmes enabled the steel industry to increase the essential joint effort for technological innovation in areas such as product diversification, process automation, improvement in working conditions, reduction of pollution and energy savings.

This continuous research drive, costing almost a billion euro (funded by a minimal charge on each tonne produced) produced results which all those involved agree were beneficial. A 1995 study showed that every euro the ECSC invested in research projects generated about a dozen euro in return.


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‘Post-ECSC’ research

Adopted last February, the Union’s new 2002-2006 ‘steel’ programme will continue the European drive for technological innovation in parallel with the start of the Sixth Framework Programme.(1)
The shared research priorities lie in two main areas:

  • continued innovation at every stage of the production line with a view to sustainable growth (reduced emissions, energy savings, recycling and rational use of primary resources), increased competitiveness and improved product quality;
  • the development of new market opportunities by producing special steels with very high-level performances in terms of their properties (at extreme temperatures, corrosion resistance, antiseismic characteristics, etc.).

(1) Details of the organisation of this new programme can be consulted on the CORDIS server (http://cordis.europa.eu/coal-steel-rtd/steel/home.html).

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To find out more:

Site of the new Steel programme
Site of the Growth programme


Contacts

Luisa Prista and Joachim Ball
Research DG
luisa.prista@ec.europa.eu
joachim.ball@ec.europa.eu

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