Good afternoon everyone! Welcome again to the UHPC for People Blog!
As you may have noticed in your pockets, some of the latest international events, such as the Ukranian war, the energy crisis or the significant inflation in the Eurozone, have generated an increase of prices, which is quite significant in certain foods, raw materials and transports.
Steel price increase 2022
Today I want to write a little bit about how the dramatic rise of the steel prices is affecting the competitiveness of UHPC structures.
First, I want to clarify that being more competitive does not mean being cheaper than before, it means that the ratio value added/price increases compared with the alternatives.
Using simple words, competitiveness is the comparison between the cost of a certain solution and the cost of the alternatives, considering that all of them efficiently solve the same problem.
As already explained in the article: The reasons for using UHPC in different sectors, UHPC structures are particularly competitive in three scenarios:
1) When they are submitted to an aggressive environment (XS, XA, abrasion…), as other materials demand more maintenance.
2) When a lighter structure implies having a competitive advantage, as in floating structures or there where transportation costs are noticeable.
3) There where slenderness provides a significantly higher architectonic value to the structure, as UHPC competes better than other materials.
In other applications, UHPC may be an excellent option, but it was not common that it was the most competitive, at least if only the initial costs are considered.
Steel price forecast 2022
Well: At this point of 2022, I am writing this post to tell you that this is changing. The dramatic increase of the steel costs (prestressing strand, steel rebars, steel sheet, etc) has significantly reduced the competitiveness of steel structures, which are widely used in precast housing, civil engineering structures, industrial and energy sector, among others.
The new prices of this material can be estimated between 20% and a 300% higher depending on the product and the geographical context. It is impossible to foresee if the current prices are temporary or if they have come to stay, but what seems difficult is that they go back to the steel prices of the beginning of 2021.
Logically, this increases the cost of any civil engineering structure, as all of them use a certain amount of steel: Ordinary concrete elements are reinforced or prestressed with steel, and its amount can be estimated between 2% and 10% in weight.
Despite that UHPC structures generally avoid the use of secondary reinforcement, they are also affected because they contain steel fibers (1.5% to 3% in volume). Thus, concrete structures are less cost-affordable than a year ago, but obviously the price rise has been much less marked than in the case of structures made 100% of steel, so a wide spectrum of new competitive solutions is blooming for UHPC.
In other words: There are many applications where using UHPC was not the first option one year ago, and at this moment using it is the most cost-efficient option.
Under the current situation, it may be logic to propose with UHPC almost any application that has been traditionally made of steel. In RDC we have analyzed several solutions typically made-of-steel in different sectors and we have observed that many of them could be easily redesigned with UHPC saving money. Some examples are in the field of precast buildings using metal framing, industrial slabs, water tanks, (foot)bridges, wind turbines, etc.
To summarize: Since its development in the 90’, UHPC used to be this excellent material for certain market niches, but the current situation is driving it to be generalized as the logic alternative to the extremely expensive steel structures.
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