The federal government has mandated a minimum
fuel economy of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks
produced after model year 2025, which will double the fuel
efficiency of vehicles that were new in 2012. The change is
also intended to reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 million
barrels and save $1.7 trillion in gas.
This necessitates changing the average weight of light
vehicles in North America from 3,798 pounds, as it was in
2015, to 3,380 pounds by 2025. The majority of that mass
is lost from the body and powertrain.
In order to hit that target, companies like Ford, which
recently began production of aluminum-bodied F-150 trucks,
and Honda, which has been working on melding steel and
aluminum, are exploring different possibilities when it comes
to materials. Auto manufacturers polled in 2014 said that
they were most likely to use aluminum in order to help meet
new fuel economy standards, with 27 percent preferring
this material, 16 percent planning on using a “multi-material
solution,” and 18 percent unsure of what they would use.
“Advanced high-strength steel” was preferred by 11 percent.
Meanwhile, Craig Parsons, automotive segment president
of the Rhode Island-based company NanoSteel, presents
steel mixed at an elemental level as an alternative to
aluminum or other automotive lightweighting techniques.
Mixing in this way creates nano-scale microstructures that
dictate the steel’s mechanical and physical properties.
The company’s technique was born from experimentation
in the federally-funded Idaho National Lab, where for six
or seven years, the work that would become NanoSteel
was a Department of Energy and Department of Defense-sponsored project. According to Parsons, this product could
change the field of automotive lightweighting.
When NanoSteel started as part of the Idaho National
Lab, researchers worked on a material that could be sprayed
onto a sheet of steel in order to make it more durable. This
was useful in highly corrosive, high-intensity environments
such as power plants. Founder Dave Paratore discovered
that he could translate the project into making sheet steel for
The project was spun out of the national lab in 2002,
when it was deemed ready for commercialization.
The challenge for NanoSteel as a commercial entity
has been to create steel that is both formable and strong.
NanoSteel uses the same type of materials that go into
conventional steel, but varies the ratios in order to create
more different grades than were previously available. They
also vary the manufacturing process, changing the way the
material is cast, worked, and rolled.
NanoSteel’s manufacturing techniques make for a
noticeable difference in the steel’s properties. Parsons
says that this makes for a huge leap in the way steel
manufacturing is developing. Steelmakers always try to make
a material that is both formable and durable.
Parsons says that staying out of the public sector was an
advantage to them at that time. “We were just developing
our own steel in a little lab out in Idaho with some very
Because of this, they could work in a segment where they
could study both steel’s strength and its formability. Parsons
says he thought this accelerated the steel industry in a way
that would have taken years longer in the public sector.
“The first 80 years of steel in cars was a slow progression,”
Parsons says. “The last 20 years have been very, very rapid
Car makers are experimenting with alternative materials in order to make vehicles lighter
and more fuel efficient. Contending with
both customer satisfaction and changing
federal emissions regulations, they need
material that is both very light and strong.
By Megan Crouse, Real-Time Digital Reporter
The Road to
A car body-in-white in
advanced lightweight steel.