11 November 2014

The dominance of steel

DelanceyPlace.com has a selection from Making the Modern World by Vaclav Smil:
Iron, used overwhelmingly as steel, is the world's dominant metal, produced at levels twenty times larger than aluminum, copper, zinc, lead, and tin combined. In 1945, the United States produced eighty percent of the world's steel, and the US Steel Corporation was the dominant steelmaker in the world. Today, the US makes less than six percent of the world's steel, and China is the dominant producer, with forty-five percent of the total (though some estimate sixty percent). And US Steel was demoted decades ago from the Dow 30 in favor of Disney.
In 1914, nearly seventy-five percent of US steel output came out of open hearths and, nearly half a century later, their share of steel production peaked at 88%. By that time, Japan and Europe were rapidly converting to top-blown basic oxygen furnaces (BOFs; photo, top), Bessemer-like converters charged with molten pig iron and scrap that is subjected to blasts of supersonic oxygen.
This new way of steelmaking was almost instantly adopted in Japan, as the country was rebuilding its steel industry that had been destroyed in World War Two. In contrast, major US steel makers were reluctant innovators, adopting their first BOF only in 1964. By the century's end, BOFs produced slightly more than seventy percent of the world's steel, though this rate will not increase (it was just below seventy percent in 2011) as they face competition from electric arc furnaces (EAFs) using scrap metal.
Rico says his grandfather was in the steel business in the 1940s... 

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