Steel has played an important role in New Zealand for over 200 years.
New Zealand’s steel industry dates to the 1800s, when European settlers first saw the potential in the magnetic qualities of the black ‘iron sands’ of the North Island west coast.
Over the next century and more, ongoing attempts to smelt the iron from the sand met with challenges as it clogged the traditional blast furnaces.
By the early 20th century, the focus turned to limonite, a rich source of iron in the Golden Bay area that could be smelted easily in a blast furnace. In 1920 the Onekakā Iron and Steel Company was set up at Golden Bay and was at the forefront of New Zealand’s iron smelting industry from 1924 and 1935. But the economic and market conditions of the time made it unsustainable.
But the attraction of iron sand as the basis of a strong New Zealand iron and steel industry persisted.
It was only in the 1960s, with direct reduction techniques and electric arc furnaces, that engineers were able to pioneer a process that allowed the potential of the iron sand deposits to be realised
Today iron for steel production is smelted by New Zealand Steel at Glenbrook, south of Auckland, using iron sand from North Waikato Head.
The majority of CO2 emissions (about 80 per cent) come from the chemical process of making iron. New Zealand Steel has significantly reduced the intensity of its emission profile since the 1990s and is continuously looking at cost effective ways of reducing its energy usage and CO2 emissions. Find out more about the company’s sustainability practices here.
Pacific Steel is New Zealand’s only manufacturer of wire rod, reinforcing bar and coil product, using virgin iron-sand feed from New Zealand Steel.
Each year Glenbrook produces 650,000 tonnes of steel for products such as roofing, shelving, machines and tools, contributing about .25% of the nation’s GDP. It is the only mill in the world to make steel from iron sands. It also generates around 60% of its electricity on site from co-generation.
New Zealand has more than 85 steel and stainless steel fabricator businesses which cut, bend and assemble steel into a wide range of products such as pre-fabricated structural steel, machinery, piping and more.
Industry capacity – 80,000 tonnes of structural steel annually
Structural steel framing has over 50% market share of the national multilevel construction market – 80% in Christchurch.
Moving to a low-emissions economy is the right thing to do now and for future generations.
New Zealand’s steel industry has a role to play because steel is fundamental to a new style of economy that underpins a more sustainable and low-emissions future – the circular economy.
In a circular economy society reduces the burden on nature by ensuring resources remain in use for as long as possible through use, reuse, remanufacture and recycling.
Steel is fundamental to the circular economy, a permanent material that can be reused and recycled infinitely. Read more about steel’s contribution to a circular economy low carbon future.
The Ministry for the Environment’s waste programme aims to transition New Zealand to a circular economy and is working with the global Ellen MacArthur Foundation to accelerate that.
We have the opportunity to work together and with government to accelerate the circular economy.
The SSC’s work focus is to help establish systems and tools that will enable businesses to action the circular economy through improving sustainability through the entire supply chain from steelmaking, manufacture and construction to reuse, remanufacture and recycling.
Our mission is to enhance the industry’s contribution to New Zealanders’ standard of living under Treasury’s Living Standards Framework.
This requires the industry to deliver across the four capitals: human, social, financial/Infrastructure and natural.
The steel industry has long been a part of our society and it supports people and communities across Aotearoa New Zealand. “It is part of our local metals manufacturing sector, which generates over $3.2 billion in gross domestic product each year1, and that provides over 28,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the steel industry2
The steel industry is also an important source of employment and career opportunities for Māori and Pacific peoples across New Zealand.3
1. Manufacturing Matters – February 2020
2. BERL (2020) New Zealand Steel Industry: Employment Created Outside the Industry (available from SCNZ).
3.Māori and Pacific in steel industries_final report 21December2021