Anyone working in the energy sector, or any company that consumes a great deal of energy as part of their operations, knows that green and renewable energy solutions are here to stay. Governments around the world are passing laws and regulations requiring businesses to increase their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint, while companies are learning that they can protect the environment and save money at the same time.
What many people don’t realize is that the green solutions themselves, such as those for solar and wind power, also need to be environmentally sustainable. It’s not really a green solution if the materials that your solar panel is made from are harmful to the environment.
That’s where stainless steel comes in. This highly recyclable material offers a host of benefits that make it competitive with other metals and plastics while itself being extremely environmentally friendly. More and more renewable energy companies are turning to stainless steel for this reason.
To learn more about how stainless steel is transforming the renewable energy sector, contact a friendly and knowledgeable professional from Clinton Aluminum.
Stainless Steel is a Green Material
Stainless steel is in many ways a material of the future. In fact, its history is not as long as you might think. While iron and steel have been essential metals for thousands of years, stainless steel is a relatively new discovery. Iron and steel, though extremely strong and easy to produce, have one vital flaw. They are both vulnerable to corrosion in even well-protected environments.
It was barely one hundred years ago that Harry Brearley of Sheffield, England, developed the first truly stainless steel while trying to solve the problem of the erosion of the inside of gun barrels. During his experiments, he found the right mixture of steel and chromium, approximately 12.8% of the latter, produced a steel alloy that was resistant to rust.
In the decades that followed, many patents were filed by other scientists, as new alloys were developed, including martensitic stainless steel in 1919, precipitation-hardening stainless steel in 1929, and duplex stainless steel in 1930. It’s hard to imagine today, with stainless steel such an essential part of our daily lives, but the commercialization of this wonder metal has only been possible in the last century.
Of course, with all of its advantages, it’s no surprise that stainless steel became indispensible so quickly. In addition to offering the strength and lightweight of steel, along with its amazing corrosion resistance, the metal has a tremendous diversity of alloys that allow for very specialized properties.
In terms of sustainability, the use of stainless steel helps in a number of ways. Because it is 100% recyclable, it helps to reduce waste during the production process. Not only that, but at the end of a product’s lifecycle, the stainless steel can be fully reused.
Stainless steel has also played a significant role in green building. In its 80 years of use in architecture projects around the world, the metal has proven durable and can maintain its appearance with low maintenance requirements and without the need for metal replacement.
Moreover, stainless steel has played an integral role in the construction of LEED rated buildings that were designed for up to 100 years of service. Another advantage is that it produces no VOC emissions, and the metal itself is easy to keep sterile, making it popular as a structural material in laboratories, hospitals, museums, and archives.
What kinds of Renewable Energy Applications are likely to use Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel has proven indispensible to the renewable energy industry, and many of the advancements that have been achieved in the last several decades would not have been possible otherwise. For example, let’s take a look at concentrating solar power plants. These are plants that rely on mirrors to focus sunlight onto a liquid in order to heat it. This process produces steam, which is then harnessed to turn turbines that produce electricity, in a similar way to how hydroelectric dams produce electricity.
Stainless steel is crucial to such power plants. First of all, these plants tend to be in harsh environments with extreme heat and constant sunlight. Stainless steel’s ability to withstand corrosion and high temperatures over many years is essential. The metal’s natural hygienic properties are also important.
Another important use of stainless steel is in wind turbines. Off shore wind farms, which need to be able to endure highly corrosive marine environments, will often employ more than 10,000 tons of stainless steel. Even a regular turbine that could be found in any environment will often be made of stainless steel because of its lightweight, long life, and anti-corrosion properties.
In the area of nuclear power, which is responsible for approximately 13% of the global energy supply, stainless steel is used for pressure tubes and in the containment unit that houses the nuclear reactor.
The process of producing biofuels, such as ethanol, also relies on the corrosion resistance of stainless steel. Converting organic material into biofuels will involve a number of strong acids and other substances that are highly damaging to ordinary materials, but which will have little or no effect on stainless steel.
Stainless steel has also been found to aid in sustainability when it is used in water pipes or pipelines. Compared with most other metals, stainless steel will maintain its integrity for much longer, reducing the amount of water or other liquid that is lost during the transfer and storage process.
Your Technical Resources Partner
Stainless steel alloys have not only proven to be incredibly green materials with a long life and tremendous recyclability, but they have helped to revolutionize the renewable energy industry. Thanks to its durability, diversity, and functionality, stainless steel is making it possible to produce cost effective green solutions that are transforming our world.
At Clinton Aluminum, we understand how critical sustainability is to the future of our planet. That’s why one of our founding principles is based on the importance of finding the right material for the job. Contact us today to speak with one of our friendly customer service representatives and learn more about what stainless steel alloy might be right for your application.