Dozens of companies have already said they will have to fire workers or even go out of business. And, as the retaliatory tariffs Canada, Japan, Mexico and other countries have announced underscore, the US is heading for a trade war with the nation’s closest allies.
But having spent the last eight years researching how to make the steel and aluminum industries more efficient, I believe it’s possible for the US to slash imports of these metals not by imposing duties but by boosting the reuse and recycling of old metal products.
Making far more of the nation’s discarded steel and aluminum scrap as good as new would have many advantages aside from its diplomatic dividends, such as cutting pollution and energy consumption.
Regardless of whether those assertions are reasonable, I believe that these imports, nearly two-thirds of the aluminum and about one-third of the steel the US consumed in 2017, could be nearly entirely displaced if America were to step up its reuse of scrap metal.
Making steel from ore requires making iron first using coke, a high-carbon fuel made by baking coal at over 1,000 degrees Celsius. Coke removes oxygen from the iron oxide in the ore, producing iron but inevitably creating carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas then released to the atmosphere.
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About the author
Daniel Cooper, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, University of Michigan
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