Award winner presents Bessemer Lecture

Materials World magazine
7 Aug 2019

Winning the Bessemer Gold Medal for his contributions to the industry, Liberty Steel CEO, Jon Bolton, speaks about GREENSTEEL and the future for the sector in the UK.

Named after steel pioneer Sir Henry Bessemer, the Bessemer Gold Medal is an annual award recognising significant innovation and outstanding contributions to the steel industry. Liberty Steel CEO and UK Steel Chairman, Jon Bolton, received the medal at the IOM3 premier awards event on 11 July 2019, and delivered the annual Bessemer Lecture.

With 35 years’ experience both in the UK and overseas, Bolton was recognised by the Iron and Steel Institute as a ‘prominent and widely respected figure in the UK steel industry’.

Bolton had increased his international experience taking senior leadership roles in Europe and North America. In addition to being Chairman of UK Steel, Bolton is Co-chair for the Steel Council alongside the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Using his high-profile position, Bolton has become a leading advocate for the industry in a modern industrial economy.

Sir Henry Bessemer was one of the founding members of the Iron and Steel Institute, which was formed in 1869. During this tenure, he provided a sum of money to endow the annual award of the Bessemer Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to the industry.

As part of the award, the winner gets an opportunity to deliver the Bessemer Lecture about those issues that are important to them, addressing the economic, environmental and societal pressures affecting the industry. Bolton used this platform to speak to the audience about Liberty Steel UK’s initiative GREENSTEEL, the benefits of supporting the industry and what the sector can expect in the future.

GREENSTEEL – a new era of steel

Bolton made it clear in his lecture that he wanted to present a positive outlook for the sector in the UK, highlighting the potential that technology, political and business resolve, as well as supporting the local industry, can have for creating significant benefits to the economy and the environment.

To address this, Bolton summarised the challenges facing the steel industry today, looking at how the UK could take better advantage of the high demand of steel to reap greater economic and social benefits. He did this by drawing upon his own knowledge and experience of the industry in the USA and Germany for comparative measure – the USA demonstrating an approach that prompted revolutions in recycling, cost and employment revolution, and Germany demonstrating political and societal support for the industry.

‘These examples support the proposition that the UK steel industry can recover lost ground, can secure a greater share of the UK market demand and can at the same time significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the sector,’ said Bolton.

He then spoke about CO2 generation in steel and the industry’s responsibility to reducing carbon emissions. According to Liberty Steel UK, GREENSTEEL is a strategy to ‘trigger renaissance of manufacturing, re-growing steel manufacturing, re-invigorate the supply chain, and to create a more sustainable and competitive future for industry’. Bolton explained how different technologies could be adopted to aid the production of GREENSTEEL in the future.

The main disruptive technology he focused on was electric arc furnace (EAF) in comparison with the blast furnace (BF), acknowledging the significant cost and environmental benefits of the former.

‘The EAF route presents the opportunity to increase capacity quickly and for relatively low capital cost, it can be operated at a low cost, assuming a competitive electricity cost and available scrap to compete with imports and more importantly can reduce CO2 emissions,’ Bolton explained.

‘I am not advocating that the BF route be completely replaced. However, what I am suggesting is that the EAFs could be operated alongside BFs to provide a total solution which is more economically and environmentally viable.’

Encouraging greater support for the industry and implementation of newer technologies, he concluded with a positive insight with optimism about the industry in the future. Drawing on from Bessemer’s famous quote, ‘I had no fixed ideas derived from long-established practice to control and bias my mind, and did not suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right’, Bolton reflected on the impact new people in the industry can have on innovation.

‘It’s encouraging to see that there are some new players willing to step up into this world,’ he said. ‘Maybe they are not as burdened by the past as some of us are and we can see more opportunities more clearly than the players from our past.’