Steel can meet stricter emissions, durability requirements for 2004

In its continuing quest to provide materials and processes that help automakers produce safe, affordable, lightweight and environmentally efficient vehicles, the global steel industry is turning its attention to fuel tanks -- an application that has lost considerable market share to plastics, reports the American Iron and Steel Institute.

In 1999, approximately 58 percent of the global production of fuel tanks was steel. Market analysts project steel's market share will dip to about 41 percent by 2004. However, with the expectation of stricter evaporative emissions and durability requirements, along with improved steels and forming processes, vehicle manufacturers are rethinking their choice of plastic fuel tanks.

"Automakers have told us that they are searching for alternatives to plastic fuel tanks, because plastic designs currently are unable to meet the stricter requirements of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that take effect in 2004," said Darryl C. Martin, senior director, Automotive Applications, American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). "Automakers understand that CARB requirements influence automotive regulations not only in California, but in many other states, and other countries. Steel fuel tanks not only can meet durability and emissions requirements for fuel tanks, they also are fully recyclable, an advantage of particular importance as governments continue to tighten requirements for end-of-life vehicles."

Meeting stricter requirements for permeability may require plastic fuel tanks to become heavier and more costly, thereby mitigating the perceived weight and cost advantages plastic fuel tanks have enjoyed. Steel successfully addresses the permeability and affordability issues. Advances in materials, such as highly formable steels that allow for greater flexibility in the forming of complex shapes, and improved corrosion-resistance make steel attractive for fuel tanks. These materials, coupled with leading edge processes, including 3-dimensional welding and hydroforming, will enable the steel industry to continue to provide affordable, durable and environmentally sound products for its customers.

To encourage further development of technologies and performance of steel fuel tanks, AISI is organizing an international multi-functional group of fuel system manufacturers, users and material suppliers. The group, called the Strategic Alliance for Steel Fuel Tanks (SASFT), has received initial interest and participation from fuel system manufacturers (such as Visteon, Tesma/Magna, Canada, Tower Automotive/Metalsa, Mex., Narmco Group,Canada, and Pilot Industries), a weld system supplier (Soudronic, Ltd., Switzerland), a paint manufacturer (The Magni Group), and a gasket supplier (Wynn's Precision - Goshen). Additionally, European and Asian steel manufacturers (such as Corus Group, ThyssenKrupp Stahl, and Usinor Group) are bringing a global view of fuel system materials to the SASFT group. Additional representation from the international fuel systems community is expected in the next few months. The Alliance's goals include working to develop next generation steel fuel tanks and exploring strategies whereby steel could provide "one-stop-shop" capabilities for fuel tank customers. Additionally, the Alliance will promote steel as the safe, affordable, durable and non-permeable choice for fuel tanks.

Peter Mould, president of Automotive Steel Technologies, Inc., will coordinate the Alliance's activities on behalf of AISI. "We are encouraged by the positive response the formation of the Alliance has generated among steelmakers, suppliers and potential customers. Although we are still in the formative stages, we anticipate making a great deal of progress in a short amount of time," said Mould.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) is a non-profit association of North American companies engaged in the iron and steel industry. The Institute comprises 47 member companies, including integrated and electric furnace steelmakers, and 174 associate and affiliate members who are suppliers to or customers of the steel industry. For more news about steel and its applications, view American Iron and Steel Institute's website at www.steel.org .

The Automotive Applications Committee (AAC) is a subcommittee of the Market Development Committee of AISI and focuses on advancing the use of steel in the highly competitive automotive market. With offices and staff located in Detroit, cooperation between the automobile and steel industries has been significant to its success. This industry cooperation resulted in the formation of the Auto/Steel Partnership, a consortium of DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors and the member companies of the AAC.