September 1, 2009


The greening of North America brings opportunities, in old metals and new, for the industry.

After years in the crosshairs of the environmental movement and regulators for emissions of all types, the metals industry might just become the green business heroes of tomorrow. From cars to offices and homes, and from windand solar-energy generation to bridges and highways, the markets for green aluminum and steel are only growing.

Yes, the recession must be overcome first. Yes, there is industry and customer inertia to be surmounted, and some business and cultural values to be changed. Yes, it is still all but impossible to predict how fast these new markets will develop here and abroad. That depends on a variety of factors, from how quickly U.S. government stimulus funds are dispersed to how successful major new players, such as the Chinese, will be in renewable energy.

But the signs remain clear and promising for the metals industry because of the increasingly important part it will play to meet environmental standards of all kinds. A prime example is the auto industry, which is thrashing about for ways to make cars lighter, stronger and more fuel-efficient to comply with government mandates that can be met only with improved metals, of all kinds. Each vehicle class size will have its own corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard, with passenger cars required to achieve by 2016 an average 39 miles per gallon and light trucks averaging 30 mpg. New extra-durable, lighter-weight metals and fresh ways to use existing high-strength products will be an integral part of that effort. “Our industry continues to develop new grades of high-strength steels that are stronger and safer and thus save fuel and improve fuel economy,” says Christopher Kristock, vice president for quality and product development at Severstal North America in Dearborn, Michigan.

At the same time, the new CAFE standards, combined with new vehicle safety requirements, will spur demand for more aluminum in cars and trucks. The new Fusion product from Novelis is a perfect example. Based on a proprietary technology, it is aluminum sheet produced by bonding two or three layers of different aluminum alloys, sandwich style, to create a product that is highly formable and corrosion resistant. The new material permits BMW, for instance, to make one-piece door components that incorporate the window frames, a design not possible with conventional aluminum sheeting. “Novelis Fusion literally opens the door to new applications for aluminum,” says Roland Harings, vice president of the Global Novelis Fusion business.

Little wonder that Troy, Michigan-headquartered Ducker Worldwide LLC, which follows metals usage trends, predicts that in the next 12 years American cars and trucks will add an additional 52 pounds of weight just from aluminum parts of all kinds. Those new aluminum parts will be a portion of an anticipated overall weight reduction for light cars and trucks to 3,500 pounds, on average, by 2020 from today’s 3,755 pounds. Similar vehicles in the rest of the world already average 3,059 pounds, Ducker says.

Building for Construction

Those desirable attributes—high strength, light weight, flexibility and durability—also will make aluminum and steel important parts of the expanding green movement in commercial and residential construction. “For me, steel would always be the most desirable material,” says architect Michael B. Lehrer, who designed the 17-acre Water+Life Museums and campus, which opened in 2007 in Hemet, California. The project, including two main museums built of steel and aluminum, received the highest green certification possible, Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), from the U.S. Green Building Council. The building includes enough photovoltaic arrays and other solar energy panels to generate nearly half the energy for the campus.

“Steel is the quintessential modernist material,” says Lehrer. “It is not the cheapest way to build. Wood sticks [are] the cheapest. But steel gives you the most freedom spatially to do what you want to do. With computer-aided design technology, steel is on the cutting edge. We can use it to make curvilinear forms that are very sculptural that wouldn’t have been possible before. You digitize it, and it goes directly to machines that fabricate the design.”

Taking the LEED

by Clare Curley

Created in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building certification system recognized in the United States, Canada and dozens of other countries. Its multi-tiered system is continuously modified by the USGBC to provide up-todate benchmarks for the design, construction and operation of environmentally friendly buildings.

The program has nine separate rating systems for different types of construction, including for retail, homes, health care and schools. The most recent, for neighborhood development, was finalized this past summer. (Go to www.usgbc.org to view all the rating systems.) Metrics used to rate certification levels for buildings are based on energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction and improved indoor environmental quality, among other factors.

The types of rating systems for LEED certification are also evolving. This year, for instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Chicago regional office became the world’s first building to be certified Platinum by the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system, created in 2008.

Participation in LEED programs is increasing globally. Numbers of both LEED-registered and LEED-certified projects doubled in 2008 from about 10,000 registered projects at the end of 2007 to more than 20,000 by the end of January 2009. At the same time, square footage of LEED-certified construction rose 92%, from 148 million to 284 million square feet.

The program has four different levels of certification— Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum—based on point totals accrued from implementing sustainable building practices. Rating systems vary with respect to project type. While LEED for Schools addresses issues such as classroom acoustics, for example, LEED for Core and Shell covers basic building elements such as central heating, ventilating and air conditioning.

Supporters say that the system saves money over time by lowering operations and maintenance costs. Also, LEED-certified buildings lease more quickly than conventional buildings in their markets, says USGBC communications coordinator Marie Coleman. A 2008 study by Miller, Spivey and Florance, “Does Green Pay Off?” found building sale prices for energy efficient buildings are as much as 10% higher per square foot than conventional buildings.

Some critics, however, contend that LEED’s checklist system doesn’t vary enough according to local environmental conditions. For example, a building in the northeast coast of the United States would receive the same credit for water conservation as a building in the dry Southwest. Another concern for some is that the cost of becoming certified—an initial design review for existing buildings starts at $1,250—could be spent on furthering sustainable measures.

But Lehrer emphasized he could not have done it without aluminum as well. With high-strength alloys, its weight advantage over steel and excellent ability to dissipate heat and assume elaborate shapes through extrusion, aluminum promises to be an increasingly competitive material in commercial and residential building.

“The loggia, the two arcades that line the courtyard, are simple steel frames,” Lehrer said. “So we had this very light steel frame and draped it with three horizontal layers of perforated aluminum.”

Steel already has a strong foothold in commercial construction, with some 40% of the market in roofing and structural components, reports Ducker Worldwide. “But this share is growing absolutely at a healthy rate,” says Katie Janness, associate partner at Ducker. “Well, maybe not so much this year, but the demand will be driven by durability and life-cycle considerations. And from a form-and-function standpoint, architects and building designers love it.”

They are beginning to love it and aluminum as well for housing, especially the new metal roof products that can mimic virtually any roofing treatment a homeowner would want. These products feature new coatings that reflect more heat and retain less cold. They can come imbedded with solar heating and photovoltaic panels to produce energy, as a series of products from Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, among others, demonstrates.

“When it comes to solar reflectivity, our industry’s products maintain their reflectivity at a much higher percentage for a much longer time than almost any other roofing alternative,” says Mike Petersen, president of Elk Grove, Illinois-based Petersen Aluminum Corp.

Roofs that produce energy in addition to lighter, stronger structural building components will become more common as America continues going green and seeks better ways to cut greenhouse gases, conserve natural resources and moves away from depleting politically explosive fossil fuels.

Both the steel and aluminum industries already have developed a formidable catalog of these eco-friendly structural products. ArcelorMittal’s trademarked Angelina beam, for example, is some 45% lighter than competitors’ beams with the same strength. The company says it “creates large open and flexible spaces that could deliver around 40 square meters of additional floor area on 1,000-square-meter office floor plates.” UltraSTEEL framing from Dietrich Metal Framing in Columbus, Ohio, and FramRite studs, wall and rafter units from Marino\WARE in South Plainfield, New Jersey, offer similar structural strength and flexibility with significant weight savings and long life cycles.

Alcoa’s Kawneer subsidiary produces a full line of energy-efficient window, wall and structural components, plus photovoltaic energy generating systems. Another example: Hydro, Europe’s leading aluminum company and a global supplier of advanced building systems, replaced conventional building facings with photovoltaics to create its new energy-neutral test center and office complex in Ulm, Germany. The aluminum-framed electricity generating arrays, in addition to the conventional type on the roof, also include an innovative, socalled building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) system in the building’s windows.

Until now, the cost premium for metal systems—as much as double or triple the alternatives depending on the application—has been a significant competitive disadvantage. “With developer-driven projects, no tenant or only one lead, cost has been more of a factor in the design,” says Robert Berry, vice president of the commercial group at international architects RTKL in Washington, D.C. “But that is all changing now. We are defining value differently. Green is becoming more mainstream, more accepted in the marketplace.”

“We have had a hard time convincing the construction industry, especially residential, to look more at steel, if only from the reforestation point of saving trees,” Severstal’s Kristock says. “But once they get used to it—every metal stud is straight, for instance—they usually stay with it.”

Because steel and aluminum beams and framing systems outlast their main competitors (wood and concrete), contain high percentages of recycled material and can be reused and recycled, they are an increasingly important part of green building and design, says Ducker’s Janness.

“Today, approximately 75% of all the aluminum ever produced is still in productive use, having been through countless loops of its life cycle,” says Ken Martchek, energy and environment committee chairman at the International Aluminum Institute. “Our input steel is 28% to 35% recycled content and it’s 100% recyclable. Our input aluminum is 90% recycled content and 100% recyclable,” says Petersen.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED credit rating system is the bible for architects, designers and builders and their clients. (See “Taking the LEED,” on LEED requirements.) “We have identified and improved roof painting systems and products to meet these standards,” says Gregory L. Crawford, executive director at the Cool Metal Roofing Coalition. “The major improvements have come in pigment technology in cooperation with the chemical industry, new painting and pigmenting systems that don’t cost any more but have infrared reflective pigments that reflect much more solar energy.”

The other applicable LEED requirements cover the building’s energy efficiency, where double-hung steel and aluminum walls provide superior insulation, and if the resulting building offers a high amount of recycled content and potential for reuse.

“We are probably 10% to 12% of the residential market in roofing and 4% to 6% of non-residential,” says Toy Henson, education and market development director for the Metal Initiative of the Metal Construction Association. “The market is maybe 80% reroofing, and that is slow now,” says Tom Black, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance. “But owners are beginning to realize that, while asphalt shingles may last 17 or 18 years, with steel it is the last roof you ever put on your house, even if the price is double.”

“We believe the use of metals works because it is a sustainable and recyclable product, so it does have a life cycle cost advantage. And we are designing more and more LEED buildings…,” agrees Berry at RTKL. Berry notes, too, that aluminum will be a strong part of these LEED designs, especially for framing everything from photovoltaic and solar heating arrays to windows and aesthetic design elements. New coatings on top of its high corrosion resistance, as he and others point out, make it ideal for a broad variety of coverings, framing and non-load-bearing walls exposed to the elements.

Developments in Infrastructure and Renewable Energy

The story of green steel and aluminum today is opportunity: new products for new applications, and new applications for older products. The high-performance steel that bridge builders use today costs 18% less and is 28% lighter, with the same strength, as its predecessors. But the steel that comprises more than 80% of a wind turbine and its mast, or close to 100% of a solar-energy collection tower, is not necessarily new. Likewise for the aluminum composites that are now used in the turbine blades of some wind generators. Wind and solar are growing parts of this nation’s energy future.

“The wind industry claims to be on track to produce 20% of our energy by 2030,” says Robert Wills, vice president of construction market development for the American Iron and Steel Institute’s Steel Market Development Institute. “Wind saw 50% growth in capacity last year over the year before, and solar reports 16% growth in the same period. The current energy agenda in this country to demands higher levels of renewable resources.”

The Apollo Alliance, a San Francisco, California-based coalition of industry and environment groups, also points to the huge potential for the U.S. economy. “We don’t make most of the systems and components here,” an Alliance report said earlier this year. “Fully half of America’s existing wind turbines were manufactured overseas. And we rank fifth among countries that manufacture solar components, even though the solar cell was born in America.”

From autos to energy generation and from bridges and highways to home and commercial construction, steel and aluminum are poised for growth in new and existing markets. You can see it in the headlines. The tallest building in the western hemisphere, Chicago’s 110-story Willis Tower (renamed from the Sears Tower this past summer, for its new owners) is getting a $350 million green retrofit: Wind turbines on the roof, and— duh—replacement of its 16,000 single windowpanes with thermal glass. Result: energy and greenhouse-gas savings equivalent to 150,000 barrels of oil a year. And a footnote to the story: Construction steel is now so much lighter and stronger that the Willis Tower, if built today, could be put up with 35% less steel than was used in 1974. It joins the Empire State Building in New York City (a $20 million, year-and-a-half-long project that includes replacement of all 6,500 windows with insulated glass and adding extra insulation, which should save the skyscraper’s owners $4.4 million a year in energy costs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 105,000 metric tons during the next 15 years), the new New York Jets/Giants stadium in the Meadowlands of northeast New Jersey (which will use some 40,000 tons of recycled steel and recycle another 20,000 tons or so of steel when the old Stadium is torn down) and legions of other buildings, landmark and otherwise, across the country in the burgeoning environmentally sustainable building trend.

Greening the Metals Industry

The metals industry is not on the sidelines in this. Certified Steel Sherwood in Hamilton, New Jersey, is retrofitting its 11-year-old metals service center with aluminum framed photovoltaic arrays on its 330,000- square-foot roof. “It’s a $7 million project, and we figure the payback will be six to seven years,” says Dante Germano, Certified’s chief financial officer. “It will generate about 98% of the energy we need to run the center.”

“We did this for more than one reason,” says Certified’s owner, Syd Sussman. “Sooner or later we are going to have to start producing electricity from these renewable sources, and it is up to individuals and companies to stand up.”

Getting Greener With the Auto Industry

The remains of the U.S.-based auto industry are under that proposal to produce cars that will average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. That’s seven years to raise fuel-efficiency from the present 27.5 mpg. And that’s a 27% improvement that is not likely to happen without the new dual-phase, martensitic (magnetic- and heat-treatable) and boron-laced advanced and ultra-high-strength steels and a nearly 75% increase in the amount of aluminum per vehicle as a percentage of body weight. The Feds have announced $25 billion in research-anddevelopment and retooling funds to help the industry get there.

A Ducker study earlier this year concludes that the new fuel economy standards, announced by President Obama in May, require at least a 7% decrease in vehicle weight. To get there, “we will need to replace approximately 650 pounds of typical steel, highstrength steel and iron with 350 pounds of dual-phase, martensitic, boron and other AHSS (advanced high-strength steel), 52 pounds of aluminum, 10 pounds of magnesium and 25 pounds of polymers and composites,” Ducker said. “Rubber, glass and other nonmetallics will need to decline by at least 40 pounds.”

With an eye toward sustainability and increased demand, several metals companies have debuted new green metal products. Here are some of them, along with their potential uses.

ADVANCED HIGH STRENGTH STEELS (dual-phase, martensitic, boron)
Producers ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel, Nucor, Severstal and others each have their own proprietary blends.
Uses: Lighter cars and trucks, structural components

New high strength layered aluminum alloy.
Uses: Lighter cars, tubing for construction applications

A high-speed, high-production molding tool. It’s another way into the light weighting automotive market for Alcoa.
Uses: Plastic part production

ANGELINA BEAMS from ArcelorMittal
Lighter weight and higher strength, the product offers highly flexible installations of conduits and building support systems and the ability to brace larger, open space interiors without supporting vertical beams.
Uses: Commercial construction

ULTRASTEEL from Dietrich Metal Framing and FRAMERITE, from Marino\WARE
Lightweight, high strength studs, wall, framing and rafter units.
Uses: Residential and commercial construction

New coatings, pigmentation and design offer a 50-year warranty and qualify for LEED certification for residential and commercial roofing materials.
Uses: Mimics almost any roofing application a customer wants

Look for a dogfight to develop, though, as steel and aluminum compete for their shares of this pie. As much as 40% of this new, light-weighting technology can use either steel or aluminum. Aluminum will probably grow from some 37% of the metal used in cars in 2009 to 40% by 2020. Almost half this growth, Ducker estimates, will be in aluminum replacing steel for closures, knuckles, suspension arms and body structures. At the same time, the use of advanced and ultra-high strength steels (AHSS and UHSS) likely will jump from 8.4% of vehicle bodyweight in 1995 to more than 24% by 2020.

Aluminum’s entries at this point will include at least two different manufacturing strategies. First, there will be innovations such as Novelis’ Fusion, the multi-layered product the company has dubbed “the new aluminum.” The second line of entry into the lightweighting auto sweepstakes will be products such as QC-10, Alcoa’s trademarked production tool that it says cuts costs, increases quality and improves the speed of making highly engineered plastic parts for vehicles. QC-10 is already being used to produce the Honda Accord, that company’s most popular model.

On the steel side, Ducker and SMDI’s Automotive Applications Council predict that the use of AHSS will grow 10% a year through 2020. This is good news for the council’s main members, ArcelorMittal Dofasco, ArcelorMittal USA, Nucor Corp., Severstal North America Inc. and United States Steel Corp, which together make about 80% of automotive AHSS.

For example, Severstal’s new “boron-added highstrength steel is perfect for making complicated car parts,” the company’s Kristock says. “If you look at the B pillar in cars now—the one at the back end of the front door—it’s about a six-inch deep stamping to allow for door locks and hinges. With conventional high-strength steel, you have limited drawing capabilities. But when you stamp it hot, as our steel allows, you can produce deep-drawn pillars which are twice as strong.”

So why don’t we see more three-inch-thick B pillars? “We have had to overcome a certain amount of manufacturing resistance from the automakers,” says Kristock. “These are among many new families of steel available now that we didn’t have 10 years ago. They were developed mainly for auto manufacturers, but a certain amount of them will go into appliances and construction as well.”

Some of the crucial greening of U.S. cars also will happen because these new steels make vehicles lighter and safer at the same time. “There’s a new federal standard for rollover protection, and to get there you have to use ultra high-strength steel,” Ron Krupitzer, vice president of automotive applications for AISI’s Steel Market Development Institute, says. “So in the last several years we have made vehicles that are infinitely stronger but without increasing their weight. In the 1980s, most steel in vehicles was the same, with about 25 to 30 pounds per-square-inch yield strength. Today steel has four times that and is much lighter.”

One result, as Krupitzer told Congress, is that “first responders are telling us they are seeing people walking away from crashes now who would have died or been severely injured years ago. They tell us that some of the new vehicles are so tough they can’t use the old Jaws of Life [rescue tool] to get them apart.”

Also, this new material doesn’t add a bunch of bucks to the cost of a car. “Negligible,” says Kristock citing another Ducker study. “The premiums are far outweighed by improved safety and fuel economy performance.”

The greening of America is no fad. New auto fuel-efficiency standards and the inevitable rise in gasoline prices will create new vehicle markets. An equally inevitable increase in energy prices, a growing scarcity of natural resources and national and international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are all part of our future.

And for the metals industries? Ask Robert Wills, at the Steel Market Development Institute: “It’s been a long time in this country since an emerging market presented this significant [of] a growth opportunity for the steel industry.”