Tens of millions of tonnes of waste plastic will be recycled into steel thanks to breakthrough Australian "green" steel technology which cuts coke and coal demand and reduces emissions.

Commercial production of the world's first "green" steel is underway at the Sydney furnaces of Onesteel, following a global licensing agreement between the Australian steelmaker and the University of New South Wales' commerialisation arm, NewSouth Innovations (NSi).

Invented by UNSW materials scientist, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, the technology currently substitutes up to 30 percent of coke and coal in electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking with polyethylene waste plastic, which would otherwise have ended up in landfill. An even higher percentage of waste plastic is envisaged in future, with a 50 percent plastic mix now under trial at UNSW labs.

Equally significant is the reduction in the power required to run the furnaces using the new waste plastic injection technology. The process promises significant environmental benefits in one of the world's most essential, but energy and resource intensive, industries.

Polyethylene plastic contains carbon, an essential raw material in EAF steelmaking.

"Plastic is simply another form of carbon," says Professor Sahajwalla. "In making steel there's essentially no difference between the polyethylene plastic in shopping bags...and a natural resource like coal."

"The new business deal is gratifying because what would otherwise become waste is recycled to become a raw material for EAF steelmaking," she says. "Australians recycle just 13 percent of the 1.2 million tonnes of plastic they use annually."

Professor Sahajwalla won the 2005 Eureka Prize for scientific research and the 2004 Fresh Innovator Award. In 2006, she received the Environmental Technology Award from the USA Association of Iron & Steel Technology. She has strong existing research, funding and advisory collaborations in Asia, Europe and the United States. Her work is supported by an Australian Research Council grant.

Media Contact: for the Australian media: Dan Gaffney, +61 411 156 015, d.gaffney@unsw.edu.au

Media Contact: for international media: Louise Williams, + 61 9385 6986, + 61407061209, Louise.Williams@unsw.edu.au

To watch the video click here