FAQ and glossary of steel terms

Steelmaking and the steel sector have their own vocabulary, describing not only the technical aspects of how steel is physically made, but also the regulatory and political framework that defines the whole European industry

Glossary of steel terms

Fine particles of raw materials, such as iron ore or limestone can be difficult to transport because they are dusty. Additionally, lumps of raw materials have mechanical and chemical properties that can impact the reaction in blast furnaces. These powdery materials are thus usually agglomerated into larger pieces for transport and use. The raw material’s properties determine the agglomeration process that is used by mills.


Iron ore particles that are stuck together in roughly 3-4cm chunks through heat treatment. In a blast furnace, these improve gas flow and, thus, improve the rate of reaction over iron ore dust. These are created in sinter plants


Pellets are created in pelletising plants. Iron ore or limestone particles are rolled into little balls in a 'balling drum', and are subsequently through a heating process.


Briquettes are small lumps that are formed by pressing material together. Hot Briquetted Iron (HBI) is a concentrated iron ore substitute made of scrap for use in electric furnaces.

Steel ls fundamentally an alloy of iron with small amounts of carbon. However, other elements, both metallic and non-metallic, can be added to change the properties of the steel, increasing corrosion resistance, hardness, or strength and so on. 

There are perhaps twenty elements that can be alloyed with steel, imparting various properties as a result. These result in different 'grades' of steel. 

Examples of (metallic) alloying elements include:

  • Aluminium: used to purge steel of impurities, such as oxygen, phosphorous or sulphur
  • Chromium: increases toughness, hardness and wear resistance; widely used in stainless steels
  • Copper: increases corrosion resistance and hardness
  • Manganese: increases high-temperature strength, wear resistance, ductility and hardness
  • Molybdenum: adds corrosion resistance and improves high-temperature strenth; widely used in stainless steels
  • Nickel: increases corrosion resistance and strength; widely used in stainless steels
  • Silicon: improves magnetism and strength
  • Tungsten: used to increase strength and hardness
  • Vanadium: improves corrosion resistance and material strength

Less commonly used alloying elements can impart other properties. These bismuth, cobalt, titanium, selenium, tellurium, lead, boron, sulfur, nitrogen, zirconium and niobium. These alloying elements can be used alone or mixed depending on the intended characteristics of the alloy steel being created.

    Steel is commonly called 'carbon' steel because it is an alloy comprising mostly iron combined with a small proportion of carbon. However, other alloying elements are often added. These added elements provide the steel additional characteristics, such as improved ductility, strength or corrosion resistance. These are added during the smelting process, and make 'alloy' steel.

    Non-alloy steel has no elements added to the steel as it is smelted - hence the name.

    Alloy steel is steel that has been mixed with one or more alloying elements to impart specific properties. 

    Strictly speaking, all steels are an alloy because steel is already an alloy of iron and a small amount of carbon (between 0.04% and 1.5%), but not all steels are called 'alloy steels'.

    The term 'alloy steel' refers to steel mixed - alloyed - with other alloying elements deliberately, in addition to the carbon. Common alloying elements include manganese, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, silicon, and boron. Less common alloying elements include aluminium, cobalt, copper, cerium, niobium, titanium, tungsten, tin, zinc, lead, and zirconium.


    Frequently Asked Questions

    Steel is an amazingly versatile material that has applications ranging from cutlery and cars, to scissors and skyscrapers. It is everywhere in our daily lives.

    On a metallurgical level, steel is an alloy of iron and carbon containing less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and small amounts of silicon, phosphorus, sulphur and oxygen. Steel is the world's most important engineering and construction material. It is used in every aspect of our lives; in cars and construction products, refrigerators and washing machines, cargo ships and surgical scalpels.

    Steel is the most versatile industrial material in the world. The thousands of different grades and types of steel developed by the industry make the modern world possible. Steel is 100% recyclable and therefore is a fundamental part of the circular economy. As a basic engineering material, steel is also an essential factor in the development and deployment of innovative, CO2-mitigating technologies, improving resource efficiency and fostering sustainable development in Europe.

    About 1.8 billion tonnes per year.

    China is by far the largest producer in the world, making around a billion tonnes a year. The EU is the second largest producer, outputting 170 million tonnes a year

    Most steel in Europe is produced via two basic routes: The Blast Furnace-Basic Oxygen Furnace (BF-BOF) route and the Electric Arc Furnace route (EAF). Blast furnaces produce iron from iron ore. In a second step a basic oxygen converter turns iron, with some additions of scrap, into steel. Electric Arc Furnaces produce steel mostly from scrap collected for recycling.

    Glossary of steel sector acronyms

    Acronyms that regularly appear in steel sector literature or that are of relevance to EUROFER, its work or its relationships with its stakeholders.

    • ADP – Abiotic Resource Depletion Potential
      BAT – Best Available Techniques
      BAT– AELs – (BAT) Associated Emission Levels
      BAT AEPL – (BAT) Associated Environmental Performance Levels
      BCG – Boston Consulting Group
      BF/BOF – Blast Furnace/Basic Oxygen Furnace
      BREF – Best Available Techniques Reference Document
      BREF-FMP – Ferrous Metal Processing BREF
      BREF-LCP – Large Combustion Plants BREF
      BREF-LVIC – Large Volume Inorganic Chemicals BREF
      BREF-SF – Smitheries and Foundries BREF
      BREF–STS – Surface Treatment Using Solvents – BREF
      BREF–WGC – Waste Gas Treatment in the Chemical Sector BREF
      BREF–WT – Waste Treatment BREF
      BusinessEurope – Confederation of European Business
      CAEF – European Foundry Association
      CARACAL – Competent Authorities for REACH and CLP
      CCUS – Carbon Capture Usage and Storage
      CEFIC – European Chemical Industry Council
      CEN – European Committee for Standardisation
      CEN/TC 135 – Standard on the execution of steel structures and aluminium structures
      CENELEC – European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation
      CI – Cobalt Institute
      CII – Cross–Industry Initiative
      CLP – Regulation on the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of products
      CO2 – Carbon Dioxide
      CONCAWE – European Refinery Industry
      cPCR complimentary Product Category Rules
      cPPP – contractual Public–Private Partnerships
      CPR – Construction Products Regulation
      CPW (Interface) – Chemicals, Products and Waste (Interface)
      CSCF – Cross Sectoral Correction Factor
      EAF – Electric Arc Furnace
      EBRD – European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
      ECHA – European Chemicals Agency
      ECCA – European Coil Coating Association
      ECSC – European Coal and Steel Community
      EDI – Electronic data interchange
      EED – Energy Efficiency Directive
      EGGA – European General Galvanizers Association
      EIPPCB – European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau
      EIPRM – European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials
      EMD – Energy Market Design
      EPDs – Environmental Product Declarations
      EPR – Extended Producer Responsibility
      EQS – Environmental Quality Standard
      ESSA – European Steel Skills Agenda and Strategy
      ESTEP – European Steel Technology Platform
      EU – European Union
      EU ETS – European Union Emissions Trading System
      EUGR – Energy Union Governance Regulation
      EURACOAL – European Association for Coal and Lignite
      EUROFER – European Steel Association
      Eurometaux – European non–ferrous metals association
      Euromines – European Association of Mining Industries
      EUROSLAG – European Ferrous Slag Products Association
      FOB – Free on Board
      FP9 – Ninth Framework Programme for Research and Innovation
      GCL – Generic Concentration Limit
      GDP – Gross Domestic Product
      GFSEC – Global Steel Forum on Steel Excess Capacity
      GHS – Global Harmonised System for classification
      GPP – Green Public Procurement
      ICDA – International Chromium Development Association
      IEA – International Energy Agency
      IED – Industrial Emissions Directive
      IG Metall – Industriegewerkschaft Metall
      IMOA – International Molybdenum Association
      industriAll – European Trade Union
      INSG – International Nickel Study Group
      IPPC – Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control
      ISSF – International Stainless Steel Forum
      JTI – Joint Technology Initiatives
      KIC – Knowledge and Innovation Community
      LCA – Lifecycle Assessment
      LCP – Large Combustion Plants
      LEVELs – Environmental Indicators for Resource Efficient Buildings
      LRTAP – Long–Range Transboundary Air Pollution
      MFF – Multiannual Financial Framework
      MSR – Market Stability Reserve
      NAPCAP – National Air Pollution Control Programmes
      NEC – National Emissions Ceilings (Directive)
      NRG – National Representatives Group (of the SET Plan)
      OECD – Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
      OSH – Occupational Safety and Health
      PEF – Product Environmental Footprint
      PEFCR – Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules
      PREI (WG) – Production Related Environmental Issues (Working Group)
      R&D&I – Research, Development and Innovation
      (ECHA) RAC – Risk Assessment Committee
      REACH – Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals
      RED – Renewable Energy Directive
      REFIT – Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme
      RFCS – Research Fund for Coal and Steel
      RoHS – Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive
      SAG – Steel Advisory Group
      SCL – Specific Concentration Limit
      SET–Plan – Strategic Energy Technology Plan
      SPIRE – Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency
      SSDC – Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee
      SustSteel – Sustainability for Steel Construction Products Mark
      TDI – Trade Defence Instruments
      TF – Task Force
      TGS – Technical Groups
      TEN–T – Trans–European Transport Network
      TRL – Technical Readiness Level
      TWG – Technical Working Group
      UN – United Nations
      US – United States (of America)
      VDEh – German Steel Institute
      VUB/IES – Vrije Universiteit Brussel / Insitute for European Studies
      WFD – Water Framework Directive
      WTO – World Trade Organisation

    Published: 17 March 2020. Most recent update: 30 March 2020.

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