Stainless steel seizes the day

Stainless steel is resistant to corrosion and staining, which means it can withstand harsh environmental conditions and requires minimal maintenance. (Image: Supplied)

Stainless steel is one of the most sustainable materials on earth. This is due to several key characteristics. Stainless steel is also highly durable, has a long lifespan, and is resistant to corrosion and staining, which means it can withstand harsh environmental conditions and requires minimal maintenance.

Stainless steel’s corrosion resistance helps prevent the degradation of structures and products over time. This characteristic is particularly valuable in applications where exposure to harsh weather conditions or corrosive substances is common, as it extends the life of products and reduces the need for replacements, contributing to sustainability.

Stainless steel is also 100% recyclable, and the recycling process does not degrade its quality. This makes it a ‘closed loop’ material, as it can be recycled indefinitely without losing its properties. Recycling stainless steel helps conserve raw materials and energy compared to producing new material from scratch. Currently, stainless steel has a recycling rate of 96%, which rates it even higher than plastics.

Enhanced energy efficiency

As with the production of any metal, the production of stainless steel can be energy intensive, but advancements in technology have improved the energy efficiency of the manufacturing process. Additionally, the energy expended in producing stainless steel is partially offset by the energy saved during its long service life and recyclability.

This means that stainless steel has a favourable Life Cycle Costing (LCC), which considers the environmental impact of a product from raw material extraction to manufacturing, transportation, use, and end-of-life. Stainless steel’s durability and recyclability contribute positively to its overall life-cycle sustainability.

In fact, in a variety of applications, certain stainless-steel grades show around a 50% cost reduction compared to galvanised carbon steel over the lifespan of a product or project. Stainless steel is also non-toxic, meaning it will not leach its constituent elements and other chemicals into the environment.

This makes it very suitable for the collection of rainwater and the storage thereof. It is also a cost-effective solution against leakage in water-supply infrastructure. LCC analysis done by Worldstainless shows it to be more cost-effective in water applications than HDPE and PVC piping, and without the health risks associated with micro-plastic contamination.

A wide range of applications

The good news is that stainless steel is now available in various forms for use in all industries, and is accepted and included in the South African National Standards. This does not only include products in the food and beverage industries, health services and pharmaceutical industries, but extends to construction products such as roof sheeting and cladding for buildings and structures.

Its mechanical and physical properties make it suitable for light frame construction, including door and window frames. Its high thermal strength and heat resistance make it a preferred material for fire-resistant construction such as doors and hatches.

In addition, while stainless steel is generally considered sustainable, it’s important to note that the sustainability of any material depends on factors such as responsible sourcing of raw materials, environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, and proper waste management during production. The transportation of stainless-steel products can also contribute to their overall environmental impact, so local sourcing and production can further enhance sustainability.

What’s clear is that stainless steel is a highly versatile ‘hero’ material when it comes to a superior lifespan and high level of recyclability. It can also be used in various industries, from construction and infrastructure to automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods. Its adaptability allows for the creation of diverse products that serve different purposes, and its potential to contribute to resource efficiency points to a bright future for sustainable stainless!

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