New steels help automakers meet fuel and emissions standards

To help automakers meet stringent fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards proposed by President Barack Obama, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation and AISI’s Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) announced that it is developing stronger, lighter and more affordable grades of advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) that will help automakers achieve the new tough standards announced by President Obama.

“Over the past decade, the North American steel industry has continued to reinvent new grades of steel that improve safety and help to reduce vehicle weight,” said David C. Jeanes, P.E., president of SMDI. “Today’s advanced high-strength steels can reduce a vehicle’s structural weight by as much as 25 to 32 percent, which can help reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, making these new steels among the most environmentally friendly materials available for future vehicles.”

On September 15, President Obama detailed his administration’s proposed new fuel economy standards and the first-ever national greenhouse gas emissions requirements, which could cut American oil consumption by 1.8 billion gallons over the life of vehicles produced from 2012 to 2016 and reduce emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons. The proposed mandate would require passenger cars and light trucks to meet a 35.5 miles-per-gallon industry average – about a 5 percent increase each year – and a combined average limit of 250 grams of CO2 emissions per mile, beginning in 2016.

“Beyond tailpipe emissions, automakers and consumers need to address the total carbon footprint of vehicles by considering their impact over their full life cycle,” said Ron Krupitzer, vice president of automotive applications for AISI’s SMDI. “Of course, reducing tailpipe emissions is important. However, if we do that without regard to the carbon consequences of building vehicles or retiring them from service, it is possible that carmakers could make poor environmental choices with the materials they use to build cars and trucks.”

According to Krupitzer, steel can help reduce total life cycle CO2 emissions by virtue of its mass reduction capability, its relatively low energy CO2 intensity compared to other materials (e.g., about 25 percent of that of aluminum or less than 15 percent of that of magnesium) and its total recyclability.

A recent study by research firm, Ducker Worldwide, shows that AHSS is the fastest-growing material in today’s new vehicles, which indicates that automakers already see the benefits of these new steels in terms of cost, mass reduction, fuel efficiency and safety. According to the study, because of these advantages, manufacturers will continue to expand the implementation of these grades to meet the new fuel economy requirements, while maintaining crash safety and affordability.