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Steel Industry Confronts Change for EVs

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media
John Catterall

The steel industry is feeling the impact of the shift to more electric vehicle investment, an official of a trade group said.

“What’s different now is what do these structures look like around the battery?” said John Catterall, vice president of the automotive program for the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). “The battery needs protecting. We’re working with our customers.”

There’s also the issue of lightweighting.

The steel industry already was working on ways to cut vehicle weight with traditional internal combustion vehicles. The industry developed high-strength steel where not as much of the material is needed. The idea was to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles.

With EVs, lightening vehicle weight can improve the range between charges. At the same time, Catterall said, improvement in battery technology may lessen the necessity of lightweighting.

“The premium on lightweighting may go down a little bit,” he said in an interview. “The mass of the vehicle may not be constraining the vehicle as it used to.”

Diagram of steel parts to protect EV batteries (Provided by AISI)

EVs won’t have transmission parts and connecting found in traditional internal combustion vehicles. However, steel may pick up EV content with structures to protect batteries, Catterall said.

“You almost have to create a safety cage around the battery,” he added.

As a result, Catterall said forecasts indicate overall steel content in EVs should be comparable to current internal combustion vehicles.

“Most steel content remains pretty consistent next five to 10 years,” he said.

The steel industry also needs to find ways to reduce its carbon emissions, Catterall said.

“There’s a lot of work on everybody’s part to make the transitions we’re talking about,” he said. There is “a lot of science involved. Steel is morphing all the time.”

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