Water – a key resource

The steel industry requires large volumes of water for its processes. All plants therefore lie in the vicinity of a ready water supply. 

Water is mainly used as a cooling medium in direct contact with the steel products (e.g. in continuous casting plants and hot rolling mills) but also for indirect cooling. But water has other uses too: for the cleaning of process gases, as a lubricant and for rinsing and flushing purposes during steel pickling. For the steel industry, therefore, it is essential to have access to water of good quality, and in sufficient quantity, as well as ensuring that water outflows meet the standards for good water quality – water is the steel industry's most important ecosystem service.

Within the steel industry, water is mainly used for cooling. The illustration here shows wire being washed in water jets. Photo: Stig-Göran Nilsson. Jernkontoret's picture collection.

Cleaning and recirculation of water

Sweden was early in drawing up an Environment Protection Act (1969) and the steel industry also commenced environmental improvements at an early stage.  Modern water purification processes started to be used as early as the 1970’s.

All Swedish steel companies are environmentally certified according to the international standard ISO 14001. This incorporates the principle of an annual audit of their environmental performance with a requirement for continuous improvement. This may involve an increase in the recirculation of already used water, thereby reducing the consumption of inflow water or indeed the recovery of metals in contaminated water, thereby discharging cleaner water and, at the same time, enabling the reuse of valuable metals.
Read more about the environmental impact of different processes involving water and measures that cut discharges.

Cleaning of circulating water from a bar rolling mill. Photo: Stig-Göran Nilsson. Jernkontoret's picture collection.

Revision of the EU Water Framework Directive

European waters are regulated by the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the so-called Water Directive. This requires that member countries must ensure water quality, and protect and manage lakes, water bodies, coastal waters, and groundwater.

During 2019, the European Commission did a fitness check of the WFD, an analyze to see if the Directive still after twenty years is “fit for purpose”. In this review, areas were identified where simplifications and improvements of the legislation are possible. The Commission is expected to present a final proposal for a new Water Directive in 2020.

The Swedish steel industry is heavily affected by the Directive. Jernkontoret's view is that the Water Directive contains much that is good but that it also needs to be modernized in some respects.

The Swedish Water Alliance

The Swedish Water Alliance (SWA) is a network including Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Swedish Water & Wastewater Association, Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, Federation of Swedish Farmers, and Swedenergy.

The aim of this collaboration is to manage jointly the water issues that affect all sectors and to discuss and work for common solutions both at EU level and nationally. At present, one of the important objectives of the Swedish Water Alliance is to contribute constructively to EU's work on developing a new Water Directive, to ensure that it leads to a modernisation of the Directive. The work is coordinated by Jernkontoret. Svemin (Swedish Association of Mines, Mineral and Metal Producers), Swedish Forest Industries Federation, IKEM (Innovation and Chemical Industries), TEKO (Swedish Trade and Employers’ Association for Companies Working in the Textile and Fashion Industry), Nordic Galvanizers and Scandinavian Copper Development Association, are also participating in this work.

Learn more: Improve the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) – Three proposals aimed at sustainable water management