Purdue University

To assess the impacts of electrification and renewable energy use on manufacturing processes and job quality in the United States steel industry

  • Amount $498,809
  • City West Lafayette, IN
  • Investigator Rebecca Ciez
  • Year 2022
  • Program Research
  • Sub-program Energy and Environment

The shift toward electrified steel production, leading to a greater reliance on utilizing renewable energy, has the potential to increase variability of steelworker schedules and job quality. This would allow steel producers to use clean energy when it is readily available and cheaper, produce and store intermediate goods, and finish the manufacturing process at a later date. Doing so, however, introduces temporal and seasonal variabilities into the steel production process that would impact the jobs of steel workers.This grant funds efforts by a team of engineers and social scientists to study the impacts on both steel workers and manufacturing processes associated with this increased adoption of renewable energy in the steel industry. The team is led by Rebecca Ciez, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering, and Partha Mukherjee, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, at Purdue University. They team will start by conducting structured interviews with 15-20 steelworkers from across Indiana to develop a framework for understanding worker decision-making processes and how they make tradeoffs about employment opportunities. These interviews will inform the development of a survey of steel workers that will be implemented throughout five states in the Great Lakes region (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin) to help quantify how workers value different attributes of their work schedules, such as hourly wages, shift schedules, number of months worked per year, and overtime provided. Survey respondents will be recruited using a number of modalities, including engaging companies, local steelworker union chapters, and direct mailing to engage rural steel workers in areas where non-unionized steel mills are major employers. Survey results will inform the modeling of electrified hydrogen and steel production processes, focusing on better representing how renewable-based hydrogen processes might impact steelmaking production on a daily, weekly, seasonal, or yearly basis.In addition to survey results and the hydrogen electrolysis modeling framework, outputs are expected to include academic articles, policy briefs, public repositories of shared data and code, and the training of two graduate students and one undergraduate student in survey methodologies and industrial energy systems analysis. While the framework developed will initially focus on electrified and decarbonized steel manufacturing, it may eventually be expanded and applied to other industries and manufacturing processes.

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