Stainless steel makers and auto manufacturers join forces as the Next Generation Vehicle Project seeks to improve the environment through lower-weight auto designs
Environmental Advancements through Collaboration
By Kevin Belt
The Next Generation Vehicle (NGV) Project (the Project) describes itself as “The link needed for tomorrow’s cars,” and this motto is applicable to multiple aspects of the Project. (The Next Generation Vehicle Project, 2007) Perhaps the most exemplary part of the NGV Project is the cumulative effort driving it. With participants consisting of three of the five largest stainless steel producers and six major European automobile manufacturers, the Project formed as a collaboration of competitors desiring to improve the environment while continuing to thrive in the marketplace. These firms, which were once united by a common lack of knowledge about how to design stainless steel for use in structural applications, are now united in this innovative initiative. The partnership, as Dr. Alfred Otto (a member of the board of steel producer ThyssenKrupp Nirosta) explains, was meant to reduce knowledge gaps and create innovative solutions to problems that, if untreated, would affect the world as a whole. Dr. Otto goes as far to say that the development of stainless steel as a structural material is, “such a big challenge, that the only answer to the question as to how to meet it successfully is: ‘let’s do it together’.” (Otto, Gilet, Rantanen, & Gustafsson, 2007)
Without significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, many scientists predict temperatures could rise as much as 11°F by 2100. (Global Warming Art, 2007) The Project has taken a step toward preventing this by creating lightweight stainless steel designs for automobiles, which increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles and thereby dramatically reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. This is particularly critical to the environment as automobile emissions account for nearly 28% of greenhouse gases emitted in the United States. (EIA Reports, 2001)
The concept of reducing the weight of an automobile to increase fuel efficiency is not new to manufacturers. The roadblock confronting manufacturers, however, has been how to reduce vehicle weight without sacrificing safety standards. (The Next Generation Vehicle Project, 2007)
The solution proposed by Volvo scientist and current NGV Project Director Roland Gustaffsonrevolves around the development of a new structural design of stainless steel, the Hybrid Stainless Steel Assembly (HSSA). (Jobb, 2003) Stainless steel had been considered a possible solution in reducing emission rates as it is relatively lightweight and 85% to 100% recyclable, but previously the structure of stainless steel was not strong enough to meet the safety standards of aluminum composites. (Otto, Gilet, Rantanen, & Gustafsson, 2007)In 2003, however, a team of Volvo scientists led by Gustaffson discovered a structural method for strengthening stainless steel that made it a feasible alternative to aluminum. The group of Volvo engineers created a “sandwich” structure similar to the corrugated core of a cardboard box, which would be one quarter of the weight of aluminum, yet eight times stiffer, allowing it to absorb 50% to 60% more force on impact. (Outokumpu, 2007)
Less than a year later, The Project was created and charged with taking the HSSA design and incorporating it into the current B-Pillar structure (the metal piece in between the front and back doors on a car) of the Volvo S-40 to determine its effectiveness. The result was a hybrid model of stainless steel and aluminum that achieved the targeted weight reduction of 20%, but due to the unique properties of HSSA, met or exceeded all the safety standards of normal cars. (Outokumpu, 2007) (Otto, Gilet, Rantanen, & Gustafsson, 2007) Using the models and guidelines laid out by the NGV Project, Gustaffson believes cars will soon weigh as much as 40% less than the typical aluminum car, with a maximum potential weight reduction of as much as 70%. (Jobb, 2003)
The environmental benefits of this design seem very promising. In life-cycle assessments of the environmental load (a measure of the resources used to create the product in addition to any emissions it creates) of cars made of stainless steel and aluminum, Gustaffson found that a theoretical car made completely of HSSA would have the highest environmental load at the manufacturing stage, but the fuel savings due to the lighter weight as well as the recyclability would make it much more environmentally friendly than cars made of other materials. Additionally, stainless steel should prove cost effective for both consumers and manufacturers, given reductions in fuel costs for consumers and a reduction in legacy and raw material costs for manufacturers resulting from the ability to recycle 100% of stainless steel products. (Jobb, 2003)
Environmental sustainability comes in many shapes and sizes. If something seems too huge to tackle alone, consider partnering with other businesses or organizations to make it happen. In the case of the NGV Project, leading automobile competitors are collaborating with major stainless steel producers to improve the environment. Collectively, their innovative efforts will produce better, more fuel-efficient, stainless steel automobiles. Ultimately, they all seek to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions for a cleaner world. How might you satisfy your consumers’ and manufacturers’ needs in an effort to improve the environment?
EIA Reports. “U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Increase by 3.1 Percent in 2000 – 1 Percentage Point Lower than GDP Growth,” (2001) Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy.
Jobb D. “Ultra-Light Stainless,” Nickel Magazine (February 2003).
Next Generation Vehicle Press Conference (2007) [Motion Picture].
The Next Generation Vehicle Project, www.ngvproject.org (Accessed September 13, 2007).
Outokumpu. “Outokumpu: Next Generation Vehicle Project,” http://www.outokumpu.com/ (Accessed September 26, 2007).