Sustainability and Steel in Automotive Applications

Automobiles are the most recycled consumer product. Each year the steel industry recycles more than 14 million tons of steel from end-of-life vehicles. This is equivalent to nearly 8.5 million new automobiles. The steel recycling rate for automobiles is near--or above--100 percent annually. This recycling record, along with developing lighter, stronger steels continues to yield environmental benefits which are sustainable.

Even while these accomplishments are impressive, the steel industry continues to work to develop new, advanced steel products and applications that will yield even greater energy benefits to manufacturers and their customers.

Advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) are strong, lighter, and produced with light life cycle impact, helping automakers decrease a vehicle’s life-long carbon footprint.

New steels benefit vehicles in three vital ways during a vehicle’s life: manufacturing, driving, and end-of-life recycling. Consequently, they are the fastest-growing material in new vehicles today. The use of AHSS reduces a vehicle’s structural weight by as much as 25 percent and can cut total life cycle CO2 emissions by up to 15 percent more than any other automotive material.

And because it is fully recyclable, steel used in today’s cars can help automakers reduce the carbon footprint of tomorrow’s vehicles, as well.

New vehicle regulations are an important step in moving towards a cleaner economy. However, future proposals for more aggressive standards fail to recognize the importance of all phases of a vehicle’s life, called The Life Cycle Assessment approach, or LCA, in minimizing a vehicle’s GHG emissions. LCA looks at the total greenhouse gas emissions from all phases of a vehicle’s life – from its manufacture through its disposal – and can help automakers make better decisions in the selection of materials for future cars and trucks.

The LCA process shows that steel, which currently makes up about 60 percent of the average North American vehicle, generates fewer emissions than other automotive body materials and therefore steel-intensive automobiles will continue to be the lowest emitting vehicles on the road.

When one considers the total vehicle life cycle, steel is the most environmentally effective choice for automakers due to its relatively low energy and emissions during the manufacturing phase, significant mass reduction during the driving phase, and 100 percent recyclability at the end of the vehicle’s life. The use of current grades of AHSS can reduce a vehicle’s structural weight by as much as 25 percent and can cut total life cycle CO2 emissions by up to 15 percent more than any other automotive material. With continued steel and technology developments, greater efficiencies will be realized.


Auto Sustainability Resources