Why this is important for ArcelorMittal
Everyone wants a more sustainable future, but few want to give up the benefits of our modern lifestyles to achieve it. Steel has an important part to play in squaring that circle, providing lightweight, energy-efficient and recyclable products for everything from domestic appliances, to cars, to food packaging. And with the power of innovation, we can do even more. It’s what our customers want, and what our investors, regulators and other stakeholders expect.
Years of successful innovation have put steel at a real advantage here. The challenge is to stay ahead of the curve, and be much more effective in communicating how steel can help make modern lifestyles more sustainable. Most people don’t realise, for example, that the production of a tonne of steel produces a lot less CO2 than either aluminium, magnesium or carbon fibre.
Steel’s competitive advantage
Our pioneering lightweight steels can help the automotive industry, for example, by reducing the weight of cars, which cuts their carbon emissions. This is vital, given the tightening of environmental regulations across the world, including in Europe, the USA, and more recently China and elsewhere. The packaging industry faces its own version of these challenges, with a particular emphasis on reducing waste to landfill, and steel’s recyclability is a major advantage here. As a result, our customers are starting to make choices based on social and environmental credentials, where price and quality are comparable. We can turn all these factors into competitive advantage.
Another big area for us is ‘lifecycle thinking’. It’s vital that industry, governments, regulators and consumers think about products and components in terms of their entire lifecycle, not just the initial production phase, because it’s the full impact that counts – and steel comes out well ahead of other products like cement and aluminium. We’ve developed a deep expertise in lifecycle analysis, or LCA, where we work to the criteria set out in the ISO14040/44 environmental standard. We have five R&D people focusing on this area, and they’ve conducted over 50 detailed assessments of products and processes in recent years.
This outcome is sponsored at group level by Greg Ludkovsky, vice president of global R&D.
Automotive is a key sector for us as a business, accounting for 19% of sales by value in both flat and long steel products.
Improving fuel efficiency
We launched our S-in-Motion® range of strong more sustainable steel solutions back in 2010, and the portfolio grows every year. Because of the high strength of the steels involved, less steel is needed, so these solutions improve the fuel efficiency of vans, pickup trucks, cars, light commercial vehicles, hybrids, and electric vehicles. The new Opel Astra is a typical case in point: the vehicle weighs 200kg less than the previous version, and 38% of this weight reduction comes from the ultra-high-strength steels we have supplied. This means that over the lifetime of the vehicle, our steel will save an estimated one tonne of CO21.
We launched 17 such automotive products in 2015, and currently have around 100 more in development.
1Calculation based on 38% of the three-tonne CO2 reduction resulting from a 200kg vehicle weight reduction, over a lifetime mileage of 200,000km.
Partnering with customers to create new products
Many of our new products are the result of longstanding partnerships with some major carmakers. We start working with these customers right at the beginning of the process to design a new model, which can be up to seven years before the first cars are made. Our R&D teams work alongside our customers’ designers, to assess exactly what a new model’s needs are, and how we can supply components that will maximise its safety and performance, while minimising its environmental impact. We also take into account their preferred method of production, which has implications for the sort of steel they need.
We constantly see examples of how this creates value. To cite just one, in 2015 we worked with PSA Peugeot Citroën to develop a new steel product, Fortiform® 1470, making sure it met their expectations, and it went on to win the Value Creation award at their 2015 Best Supplier Awards. It is now being tested in industrial conditions. The partnership continues, and the new products we’re now developing give Peugeot confidence that they’ll be able to meet the increasing demands of environmental regulation, while cutting another 100kg per car by 2020.
New generation of press-hardenable high-strength steels
During 2015 we also completed the trials of our new generation of advanced high-strength steels, Usibor® 2000 and Ductibor® 1000, and both are now going into commercial production. They could reduce the weight of a typical car by a further 10% to 20%, on top of the 16% already achieved from S-in motion® since 2010. They’re already being used by car designers in the US, Europe, and Japan, for new automotive programmes planned for 2017 and 2018 production.
We’re continuing to invest in the production capacity we need to make third-generation ultra-high strength steels at our sites in Liège and Ghent, Belgium, and at AM/NS Calvert, USA. Investment is also going into new Usibor® production at VAMA, China, Sagunto, Spain and Vega do Sul, Brazil.
Packaging and appliances
Steel is a key element of food packaging, because it’s strong, light, and durable. It’s also incredibly easy to recycle. The steel cans used in food packaging have to be coated to avoid corrosion and protect the product inside. In the past, this has been done by applying a layer of chromium or plastic lacquer, but both present health issues either to workers involved in their production, or to the consumer – in the case of the lacquers, it’s the presence of bisphenol A. Both forms of coating are in the process of being banned in the EU, and faced with this challenge, we’re making a virtue of necessity and using this as a spur to innovation. For the last 15 years, we’ve been working with our packaging competitors, suppliers and customers to develop new coatings that avoid the need to use either chromium or bisphenol A.
New organic coating range
Turning to domestic appliances, we supply sheet steel for washing machines, fridges, cookers and hi-fi equipment, which are pre-coated for durability, hygiene, and water resistance, and the sheets can also offer designers particular textures or colours. In 2015 we launched a range of products called Estetic® Casa, which have coatings made from organic components, and we also stepped up production of our new Solfer®CA steel range, which can be used to enamel domestic appliances.