he Community Steel research programme has been running since the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) Treaty was signed in 1951, and has made a major contribution to the development of new steel products and processes in Europe. From the start, research projects have rapidly led to the industrial application of results.
This apartment block in Reims, France, was completed in 1998 as part of the demonstration project 'Application of steel in the urban habitat'. The façade uses brick panels attached to a steel subframe.
"The programme's strength is that its impact is incremental," says Pierre Meriguet, Head of the Steel Sector of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research. "On a year-by-year basis, the results may not be very visible, but assessment of progress over five or ten years highlights innovations, modernisation of production processes, and development of novel types of steels." Financial assessment has shown that the benefit of ECSC research is at least 13 times as great as the investment.
From buildings to cans
One major project just completed(1) developed new methods for the construction of steel housing, including individual houses and collective multi-floor buildings. Flexible structures, using prefabricated components, allow buildings to be altered or expanded according to the changing needs of users.
Another important project will assess and disseminate the results of the earlier demonstration projects by producing reports and video film for wide distribution of information. The French coordinator CTICM is working on collective urban housing, while SAES and 3L-PLAN in Germany are developing high quality, architect-designed individual housing using steel frames. In the United Kingdom, light steel framed individual houses are being developed by SCI, and the Finnish steel producer Rautaruukki Oy is working on individual houses with high levels of thermal insulation.
Another new project, led by Centro Sviluppo Materiali (CSM) in Italy, with partners from Greece and Spain, is examining possible new surface treatments for steel food cans. Tests are being carried out to replace the usual chromium-based treatment, which can lead to environmental pollution, by a new cobalt-titanium or cerium-based coating.
Until 2002, the Steel research programme will run in parallel with the Fifth Research Framework Programme (FP5). During the planning of FP5, it was assumed that the Steel programme would end with the ECSC Treaty in July 2002. FP5 therefore included provision for steel research, especially on environmental and social aspects and production. However, the Council of Ministers has now decided that there will be a separate research programme for steel after 2002. This will be financed by the interest accruing from the ECSC's residual funds of 1.3 billion.
Projects last for between two and four years, although some demonstration projects are extended for another two years. Of the 330 projects which are currently running, around 70 will be completed at the end of 2000 and a further batch will begin. "The programme is expanding," says Pierre Meriguet. "Two years ago we had only 250 projects."
(1) Application of steel in the urban habitat, co-ordinated by CSM.