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Climate Change

New paints and steels squeeze CO2 out of auto production

Japan's Asahi Kasei and JFE Steel help automakers reduce carbon footprint

Coating is the most carbon-intensive step in the auto manufacturing process.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Automotive suppliers Asahi Kasei and JFE Steel have jumped onto the decarbonization bandwagon by developing processes that save energy and reduce the industry's carbon footprint.

Asahi Kasei, a chemical producer, is creating coating material for automotive steel sheets that can be applied at lower temperatures while maintaining conventional performance. The product could erase 300,000 tons of carbon output annually if adopted by the entire Japanese auto industry.

Coating is the most carbon-intensive auto production process due to the amount of heat involved. Automotive coating is normally baked on in drying furnaces set at 140 degrees Celsius. Asahi Kasei's new coats would lower the temperature to 80 C and decrease the number of baking sessions.

The coats, made from newly developed urethane resin, would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% at the coating stage and as much as 10% for the entire auto production process.

Asahi Kasei discovered production technology for chemical products that reduce the environmental impact as part of its research and development into chemicals that do not use toxic materials. The company will sell the new coating material on a trial basis next year, with the goal of mass production in 2026.

JFE Steel has developed tech that cuts the carbon output for ultrahigh tensile strength steel sheets. The pressing process for these sheets normally requires temperatures around 900 C, but JFE Steel can press the ultrahigh tensile steel at room temperature.

The company discovered a way to distribute the pressure without rupturing the sheet. The design of the material itself also was revised. JFE said it attained world-class levels of tensile strength for sheets pressed at room temperature.

Since heat is not necessary, the pressing process can greatly reduce carbon output. JFE Steel has not disclosed the percentage decrease, but says the method erases as much as 70 tons of carbon dioxide when processing 1,000 tons of steel, enough for a few thousand automobiles.

JFE Steel is rolling out the newly designed steel to multiple automobile companies in Japan.

One gasoline-powered automobile releases 34 tons of carbon dioxide during its life cycle, from production to disposal, according to the International Energy Agency. The carbon footprint for electric vehicles is 28 tons.

However, production accounts for 18% of all life cycle carbon output from gasoline autos, compared with 46% for electrics. Even if the shift to EVs leads to lower emissions from driving, a reduction in emissions from production will be necessary to cut emissions over entire life cycles.

Last month, Toyota Motor said it intends to achieve net-zero carbon from global factories by 2035, up from its earlier goal of 2050. Cooperation by material suppliers will be key to reaching this target since it involves coating and casting processes. Toyota is urging first-tier suppliers worldwide to reduce carbon emissions by 3% this year.

Elsewhere, Porsche has already achieved net-zero carbon output in German facilities. BMW looks to attain net-zero emissions at all factories this year, slashing per-vehicle emissions from production by 80% by 2030 compared to 2019. This trend has inspired automakers to work with material suppliers to reduce carbon.

Nissan Motor has partnered with UACJ, Kobe Steel and other producers of rolled aluminum to recycle aluminum scrap into auto components. This project is taking place with the manufacturing of the Nissan Rogue sport utility vehicle in North America, and the fragments are made into hoods and doors.

Aluminum has one-third of the density of steel, meaning it can reduce a car's fuel consumption. But smelting aluminum consumes large quantities of electricity, so replacing steel with aluminum would quadruple the carbon output. Ensuring the quality of recycled aluminum presented a problem prior to Nissan's breakthrough. A new Nissan model being released this summer in Europe will use recycled aluminum as well.

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