Why is structural steel reuse not more common?

Why is structural steel reuse not more common?

Reusing structural steel makes good environmental sense and can save money. Reuse, as opposed to the current, common practice of recycling structural steel by remelting, offers significant potential both in terms of resource efficiency and carbon emission savings.

Although technically viable, there are many practical and logistical barriers to more widespread reuse. These include the availability of reclaimed sections particularly of the desired size, volume and location, and issues relating to the quality, traceability and certification of reclaimed sections. The additional time/programme and cost of sourcing and using reclaimed steel are also barriers.

Despite the barriers, structural steel remains one of the most viable candidate products for mainstream reuse and without question, reuse will become more commonplace in the future as we embrace circular economy principles.

To help facilitate the reuse of existing structural steel, SCI has published a protocol (SCI P427) setting out recommendations for data collection, inspection, testing and design of reclaimed structural steelwork.

Reusing structural steel makes good environmental sense and can save money. Reuse, as opposed to the current, common practice of recycling structural steel by remelting, offers significant potential in terms of both resource efficiency and carbon emission savings.

Structural steel sections are inherently reusable. The process is straightforward. For example, deconstructed sections are inspected to verify their dimensional properties, tested to determine their mechanical properties and the section is then generally shot or sand-blasted to remove any coatings, and refabricated and primed to the requirements of the new project.

Despite the viability of reusing structural steel, there are many barriers to more widespread reuse. These include the availability of reclaimed sections particularly of the desired size, volume and location, and issues relating to the quality, traceability and certification of reclaimed sections. The additional time/programme and cost of using reclaimed steel are also barriers. Extra time, in general, incurs additional cost and there are many barriers centred around the increased programme associated with reclaiming and reusing structural steel including:

  • The current approach of ‘just-in-time’ supply (of new steel) by stockholders and steelwork contractors,
  • The additional design, procurement and testing/certification time required compared to using new steel,
  • Increased automation in steelwork fabrication which is far less efficient when using reclaimed steel sections,
  • Insufficient time within new development programmes to allow for deconstruction and recovery of the steel elements rather than demolition.

Despite the barriers, structural steel remains one of the most viable candidate products for mainstream reuse and without question, reuse will become more commonplace in the future as we embrace circular economy principles.
To help facilitate the reuse of existing structural steel, SCI has published a protocol (SCI P427) setting out recommendations for data collection, inspection and testing to ensure that reclaimed structural steelwork can be reused with confidence.

More can also be done to facilitate reuse in the future and work is underway within the sector to support this. The proportion of recovered products that are reused will increase as design for deconstruction is better understood and a stronger market for reusable steel construction products is stimulated. The ability of the steel construction sector to reuse structural steelwork is enhanced by the standardisation of components and connections.

To help facilitate design for deconstruction and reuse, SCI has developed guidance on the design of demountable composite construction systems (SCI P428).