Intelligent Energy

Steel Industry: Carbon fiber an environmental culprit

Posting in Energy

Steelmakers say lightweight carbon fiber increases car CO2 emissions because its manufacturing is greenhouse gas intensive. They want to swap exhaust emissions standards with a life cycle scheme.

This sentence does not contain a typo: The steel industry today called for a change in vehicle emissions regulations.

Huh? I mean the auto industry, right? Its been known to complain about the methods used to calibrate exhaust. Or maybe I meant to say that steel companies want to review how smokestack gases are measured?

Nope.

The World Steel Association today pointed out that materials such as carbon fiber, aluminum and magnesium give off 5-to-20 times more greenhouse gases during manufacturing than does steel. Therefore, when car manufacturers build these materials instead of steel into their vehicles, they are increasing their carbon footprint from a total life cycle perspective, worldsteel claims.

Regulators should scrap the tailpipe exhaust-based emissions measurements that are common around the world, worldsteel says.

“When vehicle emissions assessment is focused solely on emissions produced during the driving phase (tailpipe), this encourages the use of greenhouse gas-intensive materials in an effort to reduce vehicle weight and fuel consumption”, said Cees ten Broek, director of worldsteel’s WorldAutoSteel group.  “However, this may have the unintended consequence of increasing greenhouse gas emissions during the vehicle’s total life cycle.”

As the U.S., Europe and Asia review their emissions requirements, Worldsteel called for measurements that look at total life cycle emissions. The U.S. is currently assessing emissions policy for 2017-2025.

The life cycle approach will become even more important as more electric vehicles work their way into the mix, rendering traditional tailpipe emissions testing pointless, it noted.

The steel industry itself is a huge CO2 emitter. Its long-term goal is to remove coke from the steel making process - coke comes from a high energy conversion of coal. In the interim, it is developing various technologies to reduce CO2 or store it. It is also developing lighter and stronger steel that helps improve automobile fuel efficiency. And the steel industry points out that steel is highly recyclable, while questioning that aspect of carbon fiber.

Worldsteel is an industry association of 170 steel producers including most of its largest, such as giant ArcelorMittal which is in the auto group along with Tata Steel, ThyssenKrupp, Kobe Steel, Nippon Steel, Severstal, Baoshan Iron & Steel, China Steel Corp., POSCO, United States Steel, and others. It issued its call for new policy today from its annual conference, in Paris.

Image: World Steel Association via EDAG GmbH

More coke light:

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure