When you think about going green and helping out the environment you might ask if a product is recyclable? Will it hurt the atmosphere? Is it energy efficient? Most often, we look at how a product is used or what happens at the end of its life to determine if it is “green.” We usually don’t think of how much waste is produced in the process of creating the product at the beginning of its life.
A consumer typically only considers how many miles per gallon a vehicle gets to determine its sustainability. This only looks at the “use phase” of a vehicle’s life and in order to truly understand sustainability we need to look at the entire life cycle.
Enter Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). In the case of steel, we start from the point raw materials are taken from the ground and the vehicle is built (manufacturing phase), to the time while the car is driving down the road and burning fuel (use phase), to the point where it is hauled to the scrap yard and all of its recyclable content is removed and the rest disposed (end of life recycling and disposal phase).
WorldAutoSteel, the automotive group of the World Steel Association, recently released two new case studies examining the effect various automotive materials have on life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for light-duty trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUV). These studies looked at the impact of replacing traditional steel with aluminum or advanced high-strength steel (AHSS). The studies produced some interesting results and might make you reconsider what makes a vehicle “green.”
- The AHSS design showed lower life cycle emissions compared to the aluminum vehicle by 3% for the Light Duty Truck, and 5% for the SUV.
- If you look at a fleet of 700,000 trucks and 200,000 SUVs, this equates to approximately 1.7 million tons of additional emissions from aluminum-intensive vehicles.
- Fuel consumption was not substantially decreased when substituting aluminum for steel.
- The aluminum trucks and SUVs had higher production costs.
- Producing AHSS generates seven to 20 times fewer emissions than other materials such as aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber reinforced plastics.
It is important manufacturers take note of these results and understand the need to look at the big picture and reduce the emissions over a vehicle’s entire life. These results show how automotive steel has a low impact on the environment.
The next time you purchase a product or vehicle; ask yourself – “What’s its life story?” The answer may surprise you.