The complete lifecycle of a vehicle tells the true story of its carbon footprint. A recent study shows that vehicle production, including materials manufacturing, accounts for approximately 25 percent of the lifecycle emissions on a vehicle. The study, “Preparing for a Life Cycle CO2 Measure,” by the UK firm Ricardo, looks at the embedded emissions that occur before a vehicle hits the road.
The study explores hidden emissions in electric vehicles (EVs). Battery-powered cars reduce carbon output in use, but they may increase emissions in the manufacturing process and in recycling. The study estimates that embedded emissions will grow to 57 percent of the total lifecycle in EVs. The study calls on car makers to take into account the embedded emissions as they design vehicles for low emission output.
The steel industry has touted the study as an argument that steel may provide lower overall emissions than alternative materials. The auto industry is flirting with new and lighter materials to cut down on fuel consumption. The Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) argues that you have to take more into consideration than simply the impact of vehicle use. “There are three factors that matter,” Ron Krupitzer, vice president of automotive markets at the SMDI, told Design News. “There’s the lifecycle of the materials in the car, how they affect the driving, and finally, the end-of-life in the recycling.” Steel manufacturing requires “one fifth to one twentieth the emissions of alternative materials.”
Another factor the SMDI stresses is that new high-strength light steel can provide the same collision protection as traditional steel. “One of the big factors in high-strength steel is that it does the same job as the steel it replaces, but it’s thinner and much more efficient in its structure,” said Krupitzer. “You have steel that is 25 percent less in weight while still having the same concussion strength.”
The SMDI also cites the Ricardo study findings regarding end-of-life savings from steel. “Steel is fully recyclable, so you don’t have to go back to iron ore,” said Krupitzer. “Steel is a very sustainable material. We’re trying to educate people on this, including the EPA, so they understand that emissions are divided up into these different components.”
To further drive home the argument regarding steel, WorldAutoSteel, the automotive arm of the World Steel Association, has called for a shift from measuring tailpipe emissions to total lifecycle assessment. In a statement directed to US, European, and Asian regulators, WorldAutoSteel director Cees ten Broek said the manufacture of materials such as aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber produce far more emissions than steel.
The United States is examining fuel economy and emissions requirements for 2017-2025. The European Union’s midterm review of legislation on emission standards for new cars is expected next year. Efficiency standards are also being assessed in many Asia/Pacific countries. In light of these developments, the steel industry is pushing hard to shift from measuring emissions during vehicle use and shifting to assessments based on the vehicle’s entire lifecycle.