We’ve all heard that question and have dreaded answering it, but in the case of steel nothing could be further from the truth. One of today’s most pressing automotive goals is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from light duty vehicles – shaving weight off vehicles, or what we know as “lightweighting.”
To do this, many people think that they need to put our vehicles on a “diet” to reduce their overall mass. Many manufacturers are jumping on the alternative materials bandwagon to try to shed weight from their vehicles. As any dieter knows, in the race to lose a few pounds, fads may get the job done in the short term, but won’t last long-term – in this case, to reduce GHG emissions.
That’s why we use something called life cycle assessment (LCA) to measure the carbon footprint of any product over its entire lifetime. Most of the time we only think about emissions in terms of our vehicle’s tailpipe, but LCA takes the vehicle’s manufacturing and end-of-life process into account for a complete assessment.
Looking at the entire vehicle life cycle, we’ve learned that manufacturing advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) generates at least one-fifth fewer emissions than manufacturing alternative materials. In addition, vehicles using high-strength steels provide a significant reduction in driving emissions, as well as total life cycle emissions. That covers manufacturing and usage, but what happens to the steel once the vehicle has reached the end of its life cycle?
With more than 80 million tons recycled in the USA per year, steel is one of the most recycled materials on the planet. It is the only material that can be recycled over and over again without losing its quality…how’s that for sustainability? Steel is also magnetic, which makes it easier for magnets to sort it in the junkyard – saving time and resources. Recycled steel is used as a raw material to make new steel, which makes it the best kind of material for recycling.
When we talk about lightweighting, it is important to remember that in using alternative materials we are sacrificing GHG for weight and abandoning our original goal of reducing emissions. Our ultimate goal should be “low-carbon lightweighting” – reducing vehicle mass by using low-emitting light materials, such as AHSS. The great news is that AHSS can reduce a vehicle’s structural weight by as much as 39 percent and can cut total life cycle CO2 emissions by up to 10 percent more than any other automotive material!
As you can see, by using low-carbon lightweighting, we can still reduce vehicle mass. The manufacturing of steel emits only one-twentieth to one-fifth the greenhouse gases compared to making alternative materials, and because steel is continually recycled, AHSS is the best option for manufacturers to reduce GHG emissions.
So to answer the original question – steel has never looked better!