Paper or plastic? Coal or oil? Wind or solar? Of all the contemporary contested cases involving the environment, there is another one that will certainly be most important for the metals sector: steel or aluminum?
Steel and aluminum are going to continue to battle for market share in the automotive and energy sectorsamong othersgood new for the overall future of the metals industry, the U.S. economy and the global environment.
The Obama administration has set into motion a series of regulations that will raise fuel efficiency standards. All cars and light-duty trucks must meet a 54.5-miles-per-gallon requirement by 2025. Automakers are planning to meet these requirements through the development of advanced technologies and the implementation of strategic lightweighting solutions while maintaining the highest standards in passenger safety. This process involves the combination and strategic use of strength and ductility through the application of cost-effective design and manufacturing solutions. The combined result of these initiatives is expected to be more-fuel-efficient vehicles by 2025.
On the one hand, there are studies projecting that Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will become the biggest users of aluminum sheet in the next decade. On the other hand, these and other automakers also are using advanced high-strength steel, nanostructured steel and other products in addition to traditional steel.
The North American steel industry continues to invest in advanced materials and manufacturing technologies that have led to the introduction of a wide variety of new advanced high-strength steel grades, whose unique metallurgical properties and manufacturability enable the automotive industry to affordably meet increasingly stringent requirements.
But the use of automotive aluminum has grown continuously for 40 years, and is now second only to steel as the most used material in vehicles. More than 75 percent of all new pickup trucks produced in North America will be aluminum-bodied by 2025, according to a recent survey of automakers, which suggests a major breakthrough for automotive aluminum into high-volume vehicles.
And so the battle will go on. But the movement to a cleaner and greener economy and world is not a fixed target; rather, it is still being defined and discussed. So who will win the fight? In the case of steel vs. aluminum, the jury is still out, although its going to be fun watching it being argued over the next generation or so.