Steel Group Calls for Vehicle Emissions Standards that Examine Lifecycle Costs

Nov. 30, 2011
Global association says current standards ignore emissions created during the manufacturing process.

The World Steel Association said Nov. 30 global policymakers should take into account the release of all greenhouse gasses throughout a vehicle's lifecycle, including materials production, when drafting auto emissions standards.

The association's request comes as diplomats convene in Durban, South Africa, for the 17th annual UN climate negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations.

Focusing only on tailpipe emissions encourages the use of low-density materials, such as aluminum, that require greenhouse-gas intensive processes to produce, the association said.

Alternative materials, such as aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber, produce emissions during their manufacturing processes that are five to 20 times greater than steel, according to the World Steel Association.

"In many cases the advantages these technologies provide in tailpipe emissions reduction may not be sufficient to offset the high manufacturing emissions," said Cees ten Broek, director of WorldAutoSteel, in a prepared statement. "This could result in the unintended consequence of increasing greenhouse-gas emissions during the vehicle's total lifecycle."

But the Aluminum Association contends in its 2011 sustainability report that light-weight properties of aluminum offset 90% of the energy consumption associated with primary aluminum production. In addition, aluminum is a recyclable material that only uses 5% of the energy and generates 5% of the emissions associated with primary aluminum production.

The shift to electric vehicles may not solve the problem either because of the emissions released during battery production, says Kathleen Hickey, a spokesperson for WorldAutoSteel, the World Steel Association's automotive group.

The steel industry has been touting the benefits of advanced high-strength steel grades that, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, can reduce a vehicle's structural weight by as much as 25%.

The United States is considering fuel-economy and emissions requirements for the 2017-2025 period, while the European Union is preparing the midterm review of EU emissions standards for new cars, which is expected by the end of 2012.

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