The Life of Steel: From Birth to Rebirth

A crane in a scrap metal yard in east tennessee picking up various scrap metals, such as aluminum and steel

The Life of Steel: From Birth to Rebirth

Steel is an alloy made from iron and carbon. It is the number one most widely used and most recycled metal, and it is among one of the strongest materials manufactured today. Because steel is 100% recyclable, its life cycle is practically endless, making it a very unique material. Most materials downgrade in quality each time they are recycled, but steel fully maintains all of its properties and can be recycled an endless number of times. Today, most steel is produced from existing scrap steel. However, all steel had to originate from iron ore at one point in time. Here is how steel is produced, starting from iron ore all the way through to the scrap metal recycling process.

From Humble Beginnings—Iron Ore

Iron is the most essential ingredient in the production of steel. To get iron, iron ore must be mined from the ground. It is comprised of rock and minerals along with metallic iron. The iron found in iron ores can be in a number of different chemical compounds that each contain different percentages of the element iron. Iron ore that contains a very large percentage of iron, typically more than 60%, is considered natural ore and can go directly into the iron production process. Lower grades of iron ore need to undergo beneficiation first, which uses methods such as milling, crushing, screening, and gravity separation to remove impurities, resulting in a higher quality of iron ore that can then be processed.

Rising from the Ashes—Smelting and Steelmaking

In order to get the iron out of the iron ore, it must be smelted. The smelting process heats the iron ore in a blast furnace until the metal melts and the chemical compounds are forced to break down. At this time, all the oxygen is released from the ore. The impurities float up on top of the molten iron, making them easy to remove so that only the pure iron remains. Carbon is then added to the iron to create a metal alloy. At this point, the metallic material is now considered steel, and the addition of carbon makes it stronger than the original iron. Other metals can be melted into the alloy to create different types of steel with different properties. Adding chromium can create rust-resistant stainless steel. Adding both chromium and molybdenum can create an alloy called chrome moly steel that is strong and lighter than regular steel and often used in high temperature and pressure uses. The refined molten steel is then cast into shapes and cooled to form solid steel.

The Finishing Touches—Steel Processing

Once the steel is solidified, it can then be processed into finished goods. There are a variety of different processes that can transform steel into usable shapes and sizes. Some of these processes include hot rolling, cold rolling, annealing, and coating.

Hot rolling brings the steel up to a temperature above its recrystallization point, which makes it more malleable for shaping. After the desired shape is formed, the steel is then cooled down to room temperature. As the steel cools, it will shrink in a non-uniform way, which gives the steel a scaly finish. Hot-rolled steel is most often used for infrastructural components, such as I-beams, railroad tracks, car frames, and agricultural equipment.

Cold rolling is rolling steel into the desired shape at room temperature. Cold-rolled steel is roughly 20% stronger than hot-rolled steel and can be formed into more precise shapes. This method leaves a more attractive finish on the steel, so cold rolling is best for applications where aesthetics are important. Some of the most common uses for cold-rolled steel are rods, home appliances, metal furniture, bars, and roof and wall systems.

Annealing and coating are two ways to finish steel. Annealing involves heating steel and then cooling it very slowly. This process makes the steel easier to cut and increases its ductility, as well as enhances its electrical conductivity. Coating steel covers the steel in some type of material to protect it. Once the steel is shaped and finished, it is ready to go to manufacturers and distributors to serve its intended purpose.

Bearing the Burden—Steel Is Used in a Number of Ways

Steel is the most widely used metal in the world because of its high tensile strength and relatively low cost. It is a crucial aspect in construction and infrastructure. For this reason, the steel industry is often thought of as being indicative of economic condition. Steel is necessary for building up infrastructure, including buildings and bridges, which is what happens during economic development. Steel is also a major component in transportation, from automobiles and trains to ships and planes. Most of the tools in your garage are likely made out of steel, as are many of those in your kitchen. Furniture and household appliances, industrial machinery, weaponry, statues and landmarks. Everywhere you look you will see steel used in some way, shape, or form. Steel is very durable and will remain functional in its use for a very long time.

Continuing the Cycle—Steel Recycling

When steel eventually needs to be replaced or is no longer needed in its current function, that is when steel recycling comes into play. A scrap yard will accept your scrap steel and other scrap metal to start the scrap metal recycling process. The first thing a scrap yard will do is sort steel and other ferrous metals from non-ferrous metals. Ferrous metals contain iron and therefore are magnetic, so magnets are used to aid in this sorting process. The scrap metals are then further separated by type. After sorting through all the scrap metal, the scrap yard with usually shred it so that it can be easily melted. The different types of scrap metal are then each melted down in separate furnaces. Purification is the next step. Impurities are removed from the melted steel scrap metal to increase its quality. After removing all the impurities, the steel is then cooled and solidified into shapes that make for easy transportation, such as steel bars.

The recycled steel is now ready to be transported to a production facility to be used once again. When the resulting steel products reach the end of their life, they will cycle through this recycling process again. Steel can be recycled over and over without losing any of its qualities, and it is less expensive to recycle steel than to use virgin raw materials. For this reason, almost 40% of the steel produced around the world is made from recycled steel.

Scrap Yard Near Me in East Tennessee

Steel recycling and scrap metal recycling are important in today’s age. Recycling metal reduces the amount of energy consumed in metal production, and it saves useful materials and excess waste from going to landfills. Scrap metal recycling is a major part of maintaining a sustainable society. Because scrap steel and other types of scrap metal are valuable and necessary in our economy, a scrap yard will buy them for a decent price. If you have steel or other scrap metal that you no longer need, take it to a scrap yard to exchange it for cash. Roane Metals Group is a scrap metal recycling company with two convenient scrap yard locations in East Tennessee, one in Rockwood and the other in Crossville. We are one of the highest paying scrap yards in the Southeast, so you can be sure you will get a good price for your scrap metal. If you are ready to sell your scrap, contact us for more information or stop by one of our scrap yards today!