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A total of 89.5 million vehicles were produced in 2014, a 3% increase compared to 20131.On average, 900 kg of steel is used per vehicle, totalling approximately 80 million tonnes of steel used by the automotive sector every year.


The steel in a vehicle is distributed as follows:

● 34% is used in the body structure, panels, doors and trunk closures for high-strength and energy absorption in case of a crash

23% is in the drive train, consisting of cast iron for the engine block and machinable carbon steel for the wear resistant gears.

12% is in the suspension, using rolled high-strength steel strip. The remainder is found in the wheels, tyres, fuel tank, steering and breaking systems. 2


Steel makes up more than 50% of materials used in today’s vehicles; in recent years there has been an increase in the use of Advance High-Strength Steels (AHSS). AHSS are now used in nearly every new vehicle design. Using AHSS allows for lighter, more optimised vehicle designs that are not only safer, but also have improved fuel efficiency.

Compared to conventional steel, new grades of AHSS allow carmakers to reduce vehicle weight by 25%-39%. Using the typical five-passenger family car as an example- the vehicle's overall weight can be reduced by 170kg to 270kg. This corresponds to a lifetime saving of 3 to 4.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) over the vehicle's total life cycle. To put this into perspective 3 to 4.5 tonnes of GHG is more than the amount of GHG that is emitted during the entire production of your average five-passenger car. In other words car built with AHSS can reduce more in emissions than its cost to produce it.

WorldAutoSteel, Worldsteel's automotive group, completed a three-year programme in 2013 that delivers fully engineered, steel intensive designs for electric vehicles. Known as the FutureSteelVehicle (FSV), the project features steel body structure designs that reduce the mass of the body-in-weight to 188 kg and reduce total life cycle GHG emissions by almost 70%. FSV also conducted study that concentrates on solutions for cars that will be produced in 2015-2020. Today we are seeing the material portfolio developed through the FSV programme introduced into new automotive products.


The global transportation industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23% of all man-made CO2 emissions3. Regulators are addressing this challenge by setting cumulative limits on automotive emissions, and fuel economy standards, or a combination of both. Many of the existing regulations began as metrics to reduce oil consumption and focused on extending the number of kilometres/litre (miles/gallon) a vehicle could travel. This approach has been extended into the regulations which now limit GHG emissions from vehicles.


Extending the fuel economy metric to meet objectives to reduce emissions is having unintended consequences. Low-density alternative materials are being used to reduce vehicle mass. These materials may achieve lighter overall vehicle weights, with corresponding reductions in fuel consumption and use phase emissions. However, the production of these low-density materials is typically more energy and GHG intensive, and emissions during vehicle production are likely to increase significantly. These materials are often unable to be recycled and need to be sent to landfills. Numerous life cycle assessment (LCA) studies show how this can lead to higher emissions over the entire life cycle of the vehicle as well as increased production costs.


A key factor in understanding the real environmental impact of a material is its LCA. An LCA of a product looks at resources, energy and emissions from the raw material extraction phase to its end-of-life phase, including use, recycling and disposal. Worldsteel's publication 'Steel in the circular economy: A life cycle perspective' explains how applying a life cycle approach is crucial to understanding the real environmental impact of a product.






Footnotes:

1. International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, OICA.org.

2. Allwood J.M., Cullen J.M., et al., 2012, Sustainable Materials: with both eyes open, p. 31-38. UIT Cambridge, England.

3. International Energy Agency, CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion Highlights, 2014 Edition, p 10

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