Liberty Steel UK looks to invest its way out of trouble

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Iakov Kalinin/Adobe Stock

While most steelmakers are struggling for survival, Liberty Steel Group UK (LSUK) is pushing on with ambitious plans to double production and expand into new areas.

Not that they probably won’t be expecting government support in the process.

Whether that support is dressed up as pandemic support (very much in vogue at the moment) or Brexit-related (support lower carbon home industries in a more aggressively low-tariff world to come) is less of an issue here, but the marketing behind the announcements suggests LSUK is certainly trying to create momentum behind its plans.

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Cynicism aside, you have to admire the plus points of the firm’s GREENSTEEL plan.

LSUK purchased the Rotherham steel operations from Tata Steel three years ago and have proved good stewards so far, investing heavily in a new electric arc furnace and raising production from just 225,000 tons to over half a million prior to the pandemic lockdowns.

The firm is quoted in the local press as saying it has looked across its product mix, assets and cost base to find ways to improve competitiveness and prepare for changing market demands. New investments at the Thrybergh Bar Mill allow the firm to boost rebar production, normally a low-end product often imported into the U.K. LSUK sees significant opportunities for projects such as Britain’s high-speed rail project, HS2, as well as other post-pandemic infrastructure projects it perceives Britain will need to boost activity post-lockdown and, more importantly, post-Brexit.

The Thrybergh Bar Mill, recipient of the investment, currently makes specialist hot- and cold-finished bars for the automotive and yellow goods industries, but the investment will allow expansion into commodity rebar and wire rod, Argus media reports.

LSUK said it will expand crude steel capacity at Rotherham to a million tons per year to support the increased rolling capacity, which will take effect from September this year.

Liberty is challenged to find both cost-cutting and expansion opportunities if it is to return its operations to profitability. Steel consumption has dropped by up to 40% in the U.K. and the firm was struggling last year in the face of weak prices before the pandemic crashed demand.

Job losses are inevitable but, to its credit, the firm is also looking at investing to achieve savings.

LSUK has plans to install a Q-one electric arc furnace at its hot-rolling coil mill in Newport, which currently produces speed-stock grades by rolling imported slab. While no dates have been fixed yet, if installed this would enable it to produce between 1.5 million and 2.0 million tons per year of direct-cast strip for the U.K. market. Without its own hot-end, it has been difficult for the plant, which has been operating below capacity, to make money, Argus reports.

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Steel production in the U.K. is a shadow of its former self, but what remains has a future — that is, providing owners like Liberty continue to innovate, invest and adjust to the changing markets ahead.

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