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Steel touted as most environmentally friendly at Chicago Auto Show

American Iron and Steel Institute President Thomas Gibson addresses the media at the Chicago Auto Show.

The demise of steel in cars was greatly exaggerated.

"Over the course of the past year, we've seen 60 new steel-intensive vehicles debut coast to coast on stages in Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles," American Iron and Steel Institute President and CEO Thomas Gibson said at a news conference at the Chicago Auto Show. "Steel continues to play an integral role in new vehicles' debuts. Last month, we saw the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, Ford Ranger, all-new Ram 1500, Toyota Avalon, Honda Accord and Kia Forte, all having the benefits of advanced high-strength steels."

Steel has been fighting to protect its automotive market share from alternative metals such as aluminum and carbon fiber. Automakers have been under pressure to lighten vehicles to improve mileage and reduce greenhouse emissions.

"No other material provides the complete package steel provides — with performance, value and innovation, as well as being the most environmentally sound material for automakers and consumers," Gibson said.

The American Iron and Steel Institute's Steel Market Development Institute released a new study that found that advanced high-strength steel releases the least greenhouse gases out of any automotive material throughout the life cycle of production, driving and recycling.

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“As driving emissions decrease to meet regulations, production emissions become an even more significant component of a vehicle’s full environmental footprint,” said Jody Hall, vice president of the automotive market for SMDI. “If material production phase emissions continue to be overlooked, negative effects on the environment will begin before the vehicle is ever driven. Steel offers the best solution for the environment, the best performance and cost-effective solution for automakers, and ultimately the best value for consumers.”

The independent peer-reviewed study found high-strength steels result in fewer emissions and less energy use than aluminum, which has been gaining ground in vehicles like the Ford F-150 and eroding at steel's longtime dominance in automotive market share. Researchers determined that there was a dramatic increase in greenhouse gases emitted during production of aluminum for cars that was never offset during the vehicle's useful lifetime.

Scientists from Harvard, MIT and Argonne National Laboratory reviewed the findings.

"The bottom line is the results of this expert-validated study shows lightweighting with advanced high-strength steel produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than lightweighting with aluminum," she said. "These are emissions not captured when focusing only on tailpipe emissions according to current EPA regulations. Emissions occur at the start of the production cycle, including materials processing."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.