Steel Industry: Replace Tailpipe Emissions Testing With Lifecycle Analysis

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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 Regulations that focus only on one part of the vehicle’s life cycle will become immediately out of date as the electric vehicle becomes more prominent on the road.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.

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  • ClutchCarGo ClutchCarGo on Oct 15, 2011

    I always love how parties try to jump on a bandwagon without actually acknowledging the bandwagon's legitimacy. Is the steel industry prepared to admit that anthropomorphic carbon emmissions are causing a climate problem?

  • Redav Redav on Oct 17, 2011

    1. If we switch to carbon composites from steel, then you should include the sequestered carbon in the car itself. 2. The longer you keep your car, the greater the fuel component of the calculation will be. You only have to make the structure once, but you have to continually fuel it. Keep it long enough and what it's made of becomes virtually irrelevant (so long as it lasts that long).

  • Azfelix This inspires so much confidence in the knowledge that government employees also have oversight over the proposed emergency braking rules. Ancient Athenians utilized the process of banishment. Perhaps we should consider implementing it for every government agency at every level.
  • MrIcky Its going to sell really well for a little bit, then everyone who wanted one will have one and it will sell almost nothing ever again-primarily well to do flower shop delivery vehicles after that first wave.
  • MaintenanceCosts It will have an initial period of, well, buzz because of the Type 2 nostalgia.Whether it has legs beyond that period will depend on whether VW can get competitive on two things: (1) electric powertrain efficiency, where their products have been laggards so far (hurting range badly), and (2) software. The packaging looks good and will help, but they need to get those other things right too.
  • Oberkanone Priced too high though not by much.
  • FreedMike Looks VERY niche to me. But that's not necessarily a bad thing - this might serve nicely as a kind of halo model for VW.