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METALS FORUM Feeling the strength and versatility now more than ever


Steel is a fundamentally strategic material. It's versatile, affordable and high-tech. As such, we have seen a steady increase in demand for steel both in rapidly growing economies, such as China and India, and in mature industrial economies, such as Europe and North America. Steel's ability to combine with other materials and evolve into new compositions that offer societal benefits has solidified its status as the material of the future.

According to the International Iron and Steel Institute, global steel consumption exceeded 1.1 billion tons in 2006, an increase of more than 350 million tons over the previous seven years—demonstrating the growing global need for steel. The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) and its North American member companies are committed to providing steel solutions that meet this growing demand. We are doing this through a shared vision generated through AISI partnerships, which are stimulating the development of new ideas and expediting the implementation of steel solutions in the marketplace. Today's steels are providing the solutions necessary for tomorrow's challenges.

In the automotive market, we have been able to develop advanced high-strength steels (AHSS), which are the most sophisticated steels available today for automotive applications. AHSS foster weight reduction and exhibit a superior combination of high strength, crash energy management, excellent formability and dent resistance. In fact, 50 percent of the steels used to make automobiles today did not exist even 10 years ago. The efficiencies gained from using lighter-weight yet higher-strength steels are impressive. These steels have made automobiles safer and more fuel-efficient and have the potential to enable significantly more progress in emissions reductions.

In fact, the most recent research from Ducker Worldwide, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., projects the proportion of AHSS in auto body and closure components will grow rapidly to 35 percent by 2015 from 9 percent today and help to reduce overall vehicle weight by 50 pounds. These and other benefits are maintaining steel's role as the preeminent material of choice in today's vehicles, where the proportion of steel to the total weight of the vehicle stands at 62 percent.

Steel's dual ability to offer protection as well as environmental advantages extends beyond automotive applications. Today's steels also are protecting Americans at home in the event of natural or man-made disasters, and consumers are taking notice. According to a recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive, 87 percent of homeowners building a home in an at-risk area for wildfires would consider installing a steel or metal roof. Steel roofing is fire-retardant, providing an important line of protection in the event of wildfires. Today's steel roofs also provide excellent protection against wind, water, snow and ice, and they are even hail-resistant. Steel roofs (I have one on my own house) can last for more than 50 years, twice as long as a traditional asphalt roof, and today's steel roofs can be made to look like traditional roofing materials. Unlike other roofing materials, steel is also 100 percent recyclable.

Steel framing also offers important protection for American families. Steel framing is durable, it won't warp or twist, and the strength-to-weight ratio of steel is the highest of any residential building material. This means that in the event of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, steel framing will help keep a home standing. Steel framing also is not vulnerable to any type of fungi or mold, and is naturally termite proof.

A decade ago, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Navy, AISI's member companies developed High Performance Steel (HPS), a new bridge steel plate technology that provides up to 18 percent cost savings and up to 28 percent weight savings compared with traditional steel bridge design materials. Today, there are more than 200 HPS bridges in service in 43 states.

Moreover, the North American steel industry is working to protect the consumer food supply by promoting the nutritional and safety benefits provided by canned foods. The Canned Food Alliance (CFA), a partnership of AISI member steel producers, can manufacturers and food processors, is working to inform consumers about the nutritional and convenience benefits of buying canned food. Research has found that canned food is as nutritious as its fresh and frozen counterparts. In addition, canned foods are the most tamper-resistant food packaging option available today and will keep for two years beyond the date of purchase without any significant loss of nutrients, providing the best food option in the event of severe weather, such as a hurricane or flood.

Overall, sustainability and a commitment to the environment have become integral parts of the North American steel industry's vision for the future. Through investments in new and innovative technologies, a renewal of our long-standing commitment to recycling, refinement of industry performance metrics and collaboration across the industry and with other sectors, today's steel industry has become an environmental leader.

Our industry has reduced energy use per ton of steel shipped by more than 40 percent over the past 25 years and by 27 percent since the Kyoto Protocol's baseline year of 1990. Steel is already the most recycled material in the world—more than all other materials combined. The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) recently introduced Cycles for Steel, an educational curriculum for secondary teachers and students (grades 9 through 12) that meets educators' needs for information on recycling, solid waste management and natural resource management.

As an industry, we are committed to responsibly making innovative products that answer society's needs. Our goal is realized when our customers view North American steel producers as a vital component of their success. To achieve that goal, we will continue to focus on the proactive and timely deployment of innovative strategies that meet present and future market demands.

John P. Surma Jr. is chairman and chief executive officer of U.S. Steel Corp., Pittsburgh.

Metal Forum appears monthly and is open to submissions from industry and trade associations wishing to address issues of concern to the metals community.

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