In the Cecil B. DeMille epic movie The Ten
Commandments, pharaoh Yul Brynner, weary of the plagues put
upon Egypt, counters by telling the Jewish slaves that as
punishment they must make their same tally of bricks without
straw-in effect, ordering them to do more with less.
With new fuel economy standards and
increasing crashworthiness requirements for new vehicles, the
North American steel industry is finding itself in a similar
situation. Not many in the industry are building steel
pyramids, but the industry is facing the conundrum of trying to
make vehicles lighter and more crashworthy while at the same
time maintaining the highest possible percentage of steel they
can in each vehicle.
In today's auto/steel production world, the
first commandment might read "Build the same number of
vehicles, if not more, but use more steel and make the cars
lighter and more fuel efficient." An impossible task? No more
so than making bricks without straw, at least for members of
the Auto/Steel Partnership.
The partnership is a combination of
steelmakers and automakers working together to use the latest
generation of steels in vehicle construction. Among the
partnership's goals is finding ways for steelmakers and their
customers-automakers and parts fabricators in particular-to
work together in vehicle design and construction so that
new-generation vehicles can meet stricter government
regulations related to fuel economy and crashworthiness.
"We want to see more cars built and,
naturally, we want to see them built with steel," said Ron
Krupitzer, vice president of automotive applications for the
Steel Market Development Committee of the American Iron and
Steel Institute, Washington. "It truly is a challenge we are
facing and it's being made tougher because of things like Cafe
(corporate average fuel economy) standards and the re-emphasis
on mass reduction. But we are making a lot of progress and we
are taking the next step forward."
Those steps are being taken through
advancements in steel technology resulting in the creation of
advanced high-strength steels (AHSS), which are lighter and
stronger than traditional steels. Krupitzer pointed out that in
2002, when the UltraLight Steel Auto Body-Advanced Vehicle
Concepts program was launched, body structures were much
heavier. The use of AHSS since then has helped reduce body
structure weight by 21 percent, a figure that promises to
improve as more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) use
more of the steels in their structures.
Krupitzer said one reason that AHSS are
growing as quickly as they are lies in the development by the
Auto/Steel Partnership of a toolkit of enablers-such as the
recently published Auto/Steel Partnership/AHSS design and
stamping process guidelines-to make their use easier for
"Right now, about 11 percent of vehicle
weight is high-strength steels," Krupitzer said. "We want to
get that number to 50 percent. One of the ways we think we can
do that is by educating carmakers on how to use the steels.
That's why we developed the toolkits. We know they (carmakers)
want to use more high-strength steel. One of our goals is to
find ways to help them to do it."
Another step that builds off the toolkits
lies in the continuing collaborative work between steelmakers
and automakers. Both sides are working to ensure they remain
competitive through normal supplier/customer relationships that
allow the technical transfer of steel technology to occur in
the normal course of business. They also are conducting
cooperative work on pre-competitive issues to reduce the cost
of solving problems at individual companies.
Those collaborative efforts are manifesting
themselves in 2009 in 17 ongoing projects that cover
lightweighting and enabling and involve, among other efforts,
looking at lightweight chassis structures; mass compounding;
new generations of AHSS; application guidelines; steel testing;
and technology transfer.
The project portfolio is under development
for 2010, but already there are at least 13 in play, including
some holdovers from the 2009 list as well as new ones, such as
lightweight suspensions and looking into such areas as
benchmarking, non-linear strain paths, painted surface
appearance and precision flow form.
"One of the things that is most important is
working with individuals to make sure they understand the
material (AHSS), what the issues are and how to design with
it," said Roger Heimbuch, executive director of the Auto/Steel
Partnership. "They are the ones who have to fabricate the
parts. They have to evaluate the automotive steels. We've spent
a lot of time discovering how to transfer that knowledge. We've
done a lot of case studies. It's important (through the
partnership) to get the tools into the hands of the people who
are going to be designing the next generation of parts."
Krupitzer said that when it comes time to
evaluate the role steel plays in the carbon footprint of
vehicles, it is important to consider the vehicle's full life
cycle. He pointed out that while improvements in fuel economy
measured in miles per gallon will positively impact the driving
phase, it would be a mistake to ignore the carbon consequences
of certain technologies like mass reduction through materials
selection used by automakers to comply with Cafe standards. He
said it is possible for higher-energy and CO2-intensive
materials and processes to offset the benefits in the driving
Steel, he said, has several advantages
against other materials in that regard. WorldAutoSteel, the
automotive group of the Brussels-based World Steel Association,
in August released a second iteration of the automotive
materials parametric Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) model, which
allows for broader evaluations of automotive materials,
powertrains, fuels and vehicle total energy consumed.
Automakers can use the information to evaluate material
selection decisions and their effect on greenhouse gas (GHG)
Research indicates that vehicles made of
conventional steel produce more GHG emissions than either AHSS
or aluminum vehicles in the "use phase" of the vehicle.
However, the LCA model shows that drastically different levels
of GHG emissions emerge from the material production stage of
competing automotive materials. WorldAutoSteel's analysis shows
the current average GHG emissions from primary production for
conventional steel vehicles to be 2.3 to 2.7 carbon dioxide
equivalents, a measure of carbon dioxide plus the carbon
dioxide equivalent of other emissions such as perfluorocarbons.
AHSS vehicles average the same 2.3 to 2.7 carbon dioxide
equivalents, aluminum averages 13.9 to 15.5 and magnesium is
The research indicates that automakers should
embrace an LCA approach, but Krupitzer said many existing or
proposed government-driven regulations address only the use
phase. Such regulations can lead automakers to choose
GHG-intensive materials that may improve the use phase but
increase the total life-cycle greenhouse gases.
"There are a lot of things going on as we try
to meet these challenges," Krupitzer said. "For example, we're
looking at vehicles to be made beyond 2020-hybrids and electric
vehicles-and can they be built with steel. We are making
progress. We're coming up with ways to help make the vehicles
lighter and more fuel efficient, but maintaining the amount of
steel they contain-not only maintaining, but growing the
amount. We've won some skirmishes (against competing materials)
but there are more battles looming."