SCT 2014: Steel beats aluminium for car life-cycle sustainability

Steel is more environmentally friendly than aluminium for car making when the entire life cycle is taken into account, the ceo of German steelmaker Salzgitter said on Monday June 16.

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“CO2 emissions during aluminium production are considerably higher than in steel production,” Heinz-Jörg Fuhrmann told delegates at the 4th International Conference on Steels in Cars and Trucks (STC) in Braunschweig, Germany.

While aluminium only counts for 65% of the weight of a reference component of 10kg steel, lowering emissions in the car-use phase, its overall CO2 footprint is higher due to emissions being more than triple those for steel in the production phase, according to data accompanying Fuhrmann’s presentation.

By 2015, 13% of the total weight of material in European passenger cars is expected to be aluminium, up from 10% in 2005, Fuhrmann said.

Meanwhile, 36% of the weight will be made up of high-strength steel, up from 21% in the same comparison.

“Steel remains by far the most important material in vehicles, and that’s why we continue to develop our products,” Fuhrmann said.

Steel R&D
Increasing demands for environmental protection, population growth outside the advanced economies and a looming shortage of fuel raw materials are all driving new products, production technologies and mobility concept developments, Fuhrmann said.

The steel sector has researched and developed lightweight steel since the early 1990s, and is working closer with the automotive industry to develop new steel grades and component designs.

The steel producer is developing a high strength and ductility (HSD) steel, which can be used for example in side impact beams and bumpers, reducing CO2 emissions.

The HSD steel could be available for use by car manufacturers in 2.5 years, according to Fuhrmann.

Salzgitter has also worked on improving standard casting processes and has started developing a new belt casting technology with the technical university at Clausthal and technology provider SMS Siemag.

“The new casting technique not only enables the production of new steel materials, the process is also energy-saving,” Salzgitter said in a press statement distributed at the conference.

“The future of steel has only just begun,” it added.

Find out which metal has the upper hand in our series of articles and videos exploring the issue of steel versus aluminium.