Sustainability and Steel in Automotive Applications

Steel Recycling Rate for Cars


Note: Annual steel recycling rate runs 18 months behind due to
industry and government reporting.

Automobiles are the most recycled consumer product. Each year the steel industry recycles more than 14 million tons of steel from end-of-life vehicles. This is equivalent to nearly 13.5 million new automobiles. The steel recycling rate for automobiles is near--or above--100 percent annually. This recycling record, along with developing lighter, stronger steels continues to yield sustainable benefits.

Even while these accomplishments are impressive, the steel industry continues to work to develop new, advanced steel products and applications that will yield even greater energy benefits to manufacturers and their customers.

Advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) are strong, lighter, and produced with light life cycle impact, helping automakers decrease a vehicle’s life-long carbon footprint.

The new steels benefit the vehicle in three vital areas of a vehicle’s life: manufacturing, driving, and end-of-life recycling. Consequently, they are the fastest-growing material in new vehicles today. The use of AHSS reduces a vehicle’s structural weight by as much as 25 percent and can cut total life cycle CO2 emissions by up to 15 percent more than any other automotive material.

And because it is fully recyclable, steel used in today’s cars can help automakers reduce the carbon footprint of tomorrow’s vehicles, as well.

The new tailpipe requirements are an important step in moving towards a cleaner economy. However, future proposals for more aggressive standards fail to recognize the importance of all phases of a vehicle’s life, called Life Cycle Assessment approach, or LCA, in controlling its carbon footprint. LCA looks at the total greenhouse gas emissions from all phases of a vehicle’s life – from its manufacture through its disposal – and can help automakers make better decisions in the selection of structural materials for future cars and trucks.

The LCA process shows that steel, which currently makes up 65 percent of the average North American vehicle, is the lowest generator of greenhouse gases across a vehicle’s life, in comparison to competing materials.

When one considers the total vehicle life cycle, steel is the most environmentally effective choice for automakers due to its relatively low energy and emissions during the manufacturing phase, significant mass reduction during the driving phase, and 100 percent recyclability at the end of the vehicle’s life. The use of current grades of AHSS can reduce a vehicle’s structural weight by as much as 25 percent and can cut total life cycle CO2 emissions by up to 15 percent more than any other automotive material. With continued steel and technology developments, greater efficiencies will be realized.