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Life cycle assessment

“If we want to know how ‘green’ a vehicle really is, we have to measure emissions over its entire life cycle. Choosing an alternative material over advanced steel will result in a huge and irreversible environmental mistake.”

Brian Aranha, Executive vice president, Head of strategy, CTO, R&D, CCM, and Global Automotive and Mobility Solutions

 

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an essential tool to evaluate the environmental performance of a material. By using LCA, the environmental impact of different materials can be compared.

What is LCA?

A full life cycle assessment (LCA) of a vehicle’s emissions is an essential step towards sustainable use of the world’s resources. An LCA covers production of the raw materials, use of the product, and its end of life including recycling and reuse. It enables manufacturers and material suppliers to accurately evaluate the potential environmental impact of their products or materials over their life cycle.

The three phases of a complete life cycle assessment

While governments around the world have committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, current regulations in the automotive sector only focus on the use phase of a vehicle’s life. This pushes carmakers to reduce weight but ignores the production and end-of-life phases of a car’s lifecycle.

While the use phase of an internal combustion vehicle’s life cycle currently produces the most greenhouse gas emissions, this is not the case for emerging powertrains. Vehicles powered by solar-generated electricity or bio-fuels have very low levels of emissions during their useful life, making the production and end-of-life phases more important.

To address these concerns, the steel industry is advocating for the introduction of LCA emissions legislation which covers the vehicle’s entire life.

 

Steel industry calls for life cycle thinking in auto regulations

WorldAutoSteel, the body representing the world’s automotive steelmakers – including ArcelorMittal, has called on governments to implement life cycle thinking into new regulations on transportation emissions.

Current regulations in most parts of the world only consider the use phase of the vehicle’s life. Adopting a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to regulation ensures that emissions across all phases of a vehicle’s life cycle, and the supply chain, are considered.

While existing legislation has driven down tailpipe emissions during the use phase, it has also shifted the environmental burden to the production and recycling phases of the vehicle’s life. The unintended consequence is that overall transportation emissions might increase, even as tailpipe emissions are lowered. Emissions from the manufacture and disposal phases of a vehicle’s life are an increasingly significant part of its life cycle emissions. This is particularly noticeable in vehicles made from synthetic materials.

Adopting an LCA approach would encourage emission savings across life cycle phases and the supply chain. Ultimately it would ensure that overall emissions from transportation are lowered. The LCA approach would also give carmakers a wider range of material options and benefit their competitiveness.

For more information on the WorldAutoSteel approach to life cycle thinking, visit: https://www.ahssinsights.org/news/life-cycle-assessment-why-is-it-important/

Advantages of steel

As a permanent material steel is never destroyed once it is created from raw materials. That means steel can be recycled over and over, without losing any of its properties. Steel is also very easy to extract from the waste stream with a simple electro-magnet. That’s why steel recycling rates are the highest of any material used in the automotive sector.

Unlike other materials, advanced high strength steels (AHSS) are 100-percent recyclable. And melting end-of-life scrap to produce new steel has a significantly lower environmental impact than producing steel from raw materials.

Substituting conventional automotive steels with AHSS is one of the quickest ways automakers can improve the environmental performance of their vehicles. AHSS solutions can already match the performance and lightweighting potential of alternative and emerging materials at a significantly lower cost.

AHSS also outperforms at all stages of the vehicle’s life including production and end-of-life. After shredding for example, all steel in a vehicle can be recovered using a magnet. That steel can be recycled to create new steel, without the need for sorting.

ArcelorMittal products and solutions, such as our advanced high strength steels (AHSS) and laser welded blanks (LWB), minimize the amount of steel OEMs need. As well as efficiently using resources, these solutions also help to lightweight vehicles and reduce emissions during the use phase of their lives.

 

 

Validation studies

ArcelorMittal regularly undertakes validation studies to assess the sustainability of our solutions using LCA methodology. In a recent study, the body-in-white and hang-on parts of a compact steel reference vehicle were compared to three alternative solutions by our Global R&D team. The study used the LCA model developed by the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and WorldAutoSteel.

The study found:

  • Using advanced high strength steels to produce the BIW results in the lowest level of GHG emissions
  • AHSS offer significant environmental advantages over the vehicle’s entire lifecycle
  • Synthetic materials have a significantly higher impact on the environment

 

UCSB Automotive Energy & GHG Model Video: Dr. Roland Geyer on Life Cycle Assessment

 

Life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions Compact vehicle

The ArcelorMittal study compared a vehicle made from conventional steels to ones made from AHSS, aluminum, and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP)

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