Light-weight materials such as carbon-fiber, aluminum and magnesium are widely touted as key components of the drive towards greater fuel economy. Which explains why the automotive steel supplier industry is suddenly calling for an end to tailpipe emissions testing and a switch to the more holistic life cycle analysis testing. According to a press release from WorldAutoSteel, an industry group, the production of steel alternatives can create up to 20 times the carbon emissions of steel.
Director Cees ten Broek explains
When vehicle emissions assessments are focused solely on the emissions produced during the driving phase (tailpipe), it encourages the use of greenhouse gas-intensive materials in the effort to reduce vehicle weight and fuel consumption. However, this may have the unintended consequence of increasing greenhouse gas emissions during the vehicle’s total life cycle. Regulations that focus only on one part of the vehicle’s life cycle will become immediately out of date as the electric vehicle becomes more prominent on the road. We are only shifting the problem to other vehicle life cycle phases.
It’s always interesting to watch industries react when their self-interest suddenly aligns with idealism, but steel industry self-interest isn’t a reason to reject this idea out of hand. A study by the engineering firm Ricardo [PDF here] shows that as batteries and lightweight materials increase the amount of “embedded carbon” in cars, the production-side emissions are expected to reach 57% of life cycle emissions. In light of this trend, it’s not difficult to see why regulating tailpipe emissions alone makes little sense in a comprehensive carbon-regulation scheme. But, as the Ricardo study also shows, life cycle analysis is difficult and complicated. Imagining those complex calculations being fed into the complexity of a CAFE-style program literally makes the mind boggle.