Moving Toward the Circular Economy: The Role of Stocks in the Chinese Steel Cycle

As the world's largest CO2 emitter and steel producer, China has set the ambitious goal of establishing a circular economy which aims at reconciling economic development with environmental protection and sustainable resource use. This work applies dynamic material flow analysis to forecast production, recycling, and iron ore consumption in the Chinese steel cycle until 2100 by using steel services in terms of in-use stock per capita as driver of future development. The whole cycle is modeled to determine possible responses of the steel industry in light of the circular economy concept. If per-capita stock saturates at 8-12 tons as evidence from industrialized countries suggests, consumption may peak between 2015 and 2020, whereupon it is likely to drop by up to 40\% until 2050. A slower growing in-use stock could mitigate this peak and hence reduce overcapacity in primary production. Old scrap supply will increase substantially and it could replace up to 80\% of iron ore as resource for steel making by 2050. This would require advanced recycling technologies as manufacturers of machinery and transportation equipment would have to shift to secondary steel as well as new capacities in secondary production which could, however, make redundant already existing integrated steel plants.