Steelmaker Nucor Corp. announced Oct. 5 the launch of a line of products, including for construction uses, that have reduced embodied carbon. The offerings will be made using 100% renewable energy. Direct greenhouse gas emissions from the steel-making process will be canceled out by the purchase of carbon offsets, says the company.

Nucor claims the product line, called Econiq, will be the first net-zero carbon steel offered at scale in the United States. "Nucor is proving that [steel] can be produced in a sustainable way that can help the world meet its climate goals," said Leon Topalian, Nucor’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Don Davies, president of structural engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates, says it is exciting to see Nucor’s focus on carbon emissions reduction and its actions around renewable power-purchasing agreements. He cautions, however, that “purchasing offsets to then claim net zero is a slippery slope that can lack credibility, in some cases, and can often impede or delay meaningful industry change.”

Davies is nevertheless watching the Nucor development with cautious optimism. “Nucor has a great reputation for integrity in the carbon data they share with the industry,” he says.  

Cost Premium for Econiq

Although Nucor is not offering specifics, there will be a cost premium for Econiq products. And while initial quantities will be limited, the brand will be available across the line of Nucor products.

General Motors is Nucor's first customer for Econiq, beginning in the first quarter of next year. The company expects construction industry customers to follow soon.

“We do plan to supply the construction market with these products,” says Katherine Miller, Nucor’s director of public affairs and corporate communications. “We will also be able to serve all steel materials and products that feed construction from beams and columns to joists and deck, just to name a few.”

The U.S. is the cleanest place in the world to make steel, accounting for less than 2% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the global steel sector, according to Nucor. The steelmaker uses recycled scrap-based electric arc furnace technology at all of its 24 U.S. mills, which enables it to operate at 70% below the current GHG intensity for the steel sector, says the company.

Nucor and its affiliates are located in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Products include carbon and alloy steel, such as bars, beams, sheet and plate; hollow structural section tubing; electrical conduit; steel racking; steel piling; steel joists and joist girders; steel deck; fabricated concrete reinforcing steel; cold-finished steel; precision castings; steel fasteners; metal building systems; insulated metal panels; steel grating; and wire and wire mesh.

“We think this is a great next step forward,” says Scott Schneider, a principal and co-leader of Thornton Tomasetti’s structural engineering practice. “As structural engineers, we have the ability to influence the solution to the problem of embodied carbon in the way we design and specify buildings, but we can’t do it on our own. We need multiple members of the building team pulling in the same direction,” including steel makers, fabricators and general contractors.