Steel has always been one of the automotive industry‘s greatest allies and now offers a concrete solution to guide the industry, and more generally mobility, towards a sustainable future.
The Steel E-Motive project, led by WorldAutoSteel in collaboration with global engineering firm Ricardo, has demonstrated this assumption through a three-year research program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and total energy consumption of vehicles over their entire life cycle.
The prospects for sustainability
The key role of steel, an infinitely recyclable material, for automotive, is linked to the relatively recent phenomena of ride sharing and Maas (Mobility as a service) applied to electric and autonomous vehicles.
Steel‘s potential towards the sustainable transition is easily guessed from the comparison made with a battery electric vehicle (BEV) of 2022 and an expected Steel E-Motive production date of 2030-35: over the entire life cycle, a reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions of up to 86 percent is measured.
Steel E-Motive takes advantage of the reduced environmental impact of high-strength steel (AHSS) in the three phases of the vehicle life cycle: production and assembly, use, and end-of-life/recycling.
The production phase
The design of vehicles with AHSS steel is sustainable because existing global manufacturing and supply resources can be employed for its production.
In addition, such design focuses on minimizing thickness and reducing the amount of material needed, combining these two actions with an efficient and nearly waste-free production process.
Steel E-Motive’s AHSS body allows the structure’s mass to be reduced by 27 percent, leading to savings in production and emissions.
A solution that rewards savings without affecting safety, Steel E-Motive’s design is engineered to meet global high-speed accident regulations.
Steel’s path towards decarbonization
In this project, it is important to point out the steel industry’s long-standing commitment to decarbonization. A commitment that makes use of techniques such as directly reduced iron (DRI), which employs hydrogen as a reducing agent to obtain metallic iron from iron ore. According to Steel E-Motive, the combination of this green hydrogen-fueled process with electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking, which uses high percentages of recycled steel, results in the best overall potential for decarbonized steel production.
The utilization phase and mobility as a service
Concerning the utilization phase, it is important to promote and foster both the ecological transformation of the electricity grid and the so-called smoothing of the driving cycle through advanced vehicle data collection that enables a reduction in energy consumption by optimizing speed, acceleration and deceleration.
Steel E-Motive is designed with the Mobility as a service sector in mind, which has several strategic advantages including increasing the average vehicle occupancy rate. This new philosophy of mobility replaces the concept of personal vehicle ownership with the concept of shared mobility intended as a service to be used as and when needed.
The urban version of Steel E-Motive can accommodate up to four passengers per vehicle, while the intercity version accommodates up to seven. With this in mind, the vehicle’s range also helps; in fact, the absence of the driver generates more space for passengers. This dynamic will significantly reduce CO2 emissions per passenger-kilometer, but it will also require more durable vehicles – a feature largely guaranteed by the AHSS and vehicle design, which facilitates the replacement of battery modules.
The end-of-life phase
As anticipated, steel sustainability also involves the end-of-life phase of the vehicle lifecycle, thanks to an established recycling infrastructure worldwide and the spread of electric arc furnace steel production, which further increases the use and demand for recycled steel.
Steel E-Motive thus manifests the full potential of autonomous, steel-based vehicles for the development of fully sustainable mobility.