LIBERTY France, the French subsidiary of Liberty Steel Group, part of Sanjeev Gupta’s sustainable industry leader GFG Alliance, and SNCF Réseau have announced that Europe’s first GREENSTEEL on the French rail network have been approved.

According to Liberty France, this 'significant step' demonstrates SNCF Réseau’s contribution to the establishment of a French 'green rail' industrial sector to fully integrate the country’s railway infrastructure into a circular economy. The approval also marks the first step in achieving Liberty’s ambition for the recently-acquired Liberty Ascoval and Liberty Rail Hayange (previously France Rail Industry), which is to build a world class GREENSTEEL rail and rail services business with international reach.

Liberty claims that the key focus of its acquisition was to connect Ascoval with the Hayange rail mill so that together they become the leader in the provision of GREENSTEEL rails. It is claimed that this circular economy concept would see Liberty Ascoval melting recycled scrap steel, including recovered scrap rail from Hayange’s customers, in its electric arc furnace to produce large rectangular GREENSTEEL 'blooms' which could then be rolled into rails at Liberty Rail Hayange.

This was achieved shortly after the acquisition of Liberty Ascoval when its new modified caster line cast its first square 'billet'. The €17 million modification, which was delivered on time and to budget despite COVID-19 complications, meant that the high quality steelmaking equipment at Ascoval could be deployed to produce a new range of cross-sections, including blooms and billets, suitable for rolling into rails and other steel products in new markets. Ascoval is now running at higher capacity, with the strong prospect of adding more jobs in early 2021 as the plant expands its production.

Rail production specialists at Hayange worked closely with those from SNCF Réseau to manufacture a range of GREENSTEEL rails which will be used across the French rail network. This new production process reduces CO2 emissions by 90% with the traditional processes used in Europe for the production of rail steels. This environmental performance is possible because of the electric arc process rather than traditional blast furnaces. The manufacturing method of GREENSTEEL rails emits 180 kg of CO2 per tonne of steel compared to 1.8 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel using conventional blast furnaces. The goal is to make the rails carbon neutral by 2030.

SNCF Réseau has carried out a comprehensive range of homologation tests on the new range of rails and a full audit of the Liberty Ascoval site. Once homologation testing and audit work was completed, SNCF Réseau approved the use of the new rails across its French network. LIBERTY expects to start developing a sustainable GREENSTEEL rail market, initially in France and then more widely across Europe, as rail operators make the transition to carbon neutral networks.

Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of GFG Alliance and LIBERTY Steel Group, commented: “Today is a great step forwards for LIBERTY Steel’s ambitions in France. Our vision is to build a world class rail and rail services business with international reach, based on our GREENSTEEL model, and it is excellent to see that vision starting to be realised. Together these two strategic plants have already started to create a truly integrated value chain which provides the platform for further GREENSTEEL rail production in France and across Europe.”

According to Olivier Bancel, deputy general manager of production at SNCF Réseau, SNCF has strong ambitions to reduce its carbon impact in all areas, materials, works and logistics. "Not only will part of our rails be produced electrically, but we will complete the cycle by offering part of the rails as raw materials, all in an optimised logistics cycle. This makes the business model even more relevant. The approval process has been accelerated, the partnership is working well,” he added.

Gerard Glas, president of Liberty Rail Hayange said that the validation of GREENSTEEL rails by SNCF Réseau will drive the company’s expansion plan and its move towards producing truly carbon neutral steel rails for operators across Europe. "We look forward to working ever more closely with our colleagues at LIBERTY Ascoval in the future to create a GREENSTEEL champion in France,” he said.

Liberty Ascoval's CEO, Cedric Orban, said he hopes to add more employees next year. "We look forward to working more closely with Liberty Rail Hayange to create a truly integrated green rail business,” he said.