October 1, 2005 New steel technologies are offering better looks, performance and protection for cars. To make new steel alloys, metallurgical engineers are mixing different kinds of metals like nickel, with iron to make a lighter, stronger, more-flexible automobile.
PITTSBURGH--High gas prices are forcing consumers to fork over fistfuls of cash at the pump. In fact, AAA says prices are now a dollar more than this time last year. Now, a new car technology might offer some relief when filling up your car at the pump.
Rising gas prices are hitting Andy Carson where it hurts -- his wallet. "I think gas prices are going to have a tremendous effect on my decision on what car I'm going to buy," Carson says. Fuel economy is playing a big part in his decision. Now, new high-tech materials for cars may produce a car to fit his budget.
Richard Fruehan, a metallurgical engineer from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, says, "These very new steels have unique properties. This will enable us to use these steels in automobiles and reduce the weight of the automobiles and get the resulting fuel economy."
New steel technologies offer better looks, performance and protection for cars. Fruehan says, "The result will be a car that lasts longer, a car that gets better fuel economy and a car that is safe for the passenger." To make new steel materials, metallurgical engineers mix different kinds of metals, like nickel with iron to make a lighter, stronger, more-flexible product. "These steels are more coatable to resist corrosion, so the steels that we're pitting in are much better," Fruehan says.
Improved materials for cars could be the answer to gas mileage sticker-shock and give Andy Carson an upgrade. "I get good gas mileage now, but I think I can do a lot better," he says. But for now, he's paying the price at the pump and hopes for relief down the road.
If you think the United States prices are high, in Europe, they pay $7 a gallon. So experts say now is the time to tackle the problem.
BACKGROUND: Materials scientists can add different amounts of metals to steel to make the steel stronger or more flexible. More than 50 types of extra-strong steel for buildings, and steel coatings to prevent rust on cars, have been developed. Scientists can also produce steel that is more lightweight for cars; less weight means the car burns less fuel when operating.
WHAT IS STEEL: Steel describes an entire family of metals, all of them alloys in which iron is mixed with carbon and other elements. Steel is used in just about every area of our lives: in cars, in construction, in appliances like refrigerators and washing machines, even to make steel toecaps for protective boots and scalpels for medical surgery. Steel is environmentally quite friendly: it is easily recycled, highly durable, and uses much less energy to produce than other materials.
WHERE STEEL GETS ITS PROPERTIES: How hard steel is depends on the how much carbon is inside. For instance, the steel used to manufacture a pair of scissors contains almost 20 times as much carbon as the steel used in a soda can. But no steel contains more then 1.5 percent carbon. Heat can also affect steel's properties. If you cool a red-hot piece of steel very quickly in cold water, it will become harder and more brittle. The same piece of metal could be made softer by keeping it a high heat for a longer period of time and then cooling it slowly.
EYE ON HISTORY: Steel production was revolutionized in 1856 by a British man named Henry Bessemer, who founded his own steel mill in Sheffield, England. Steel is still produced using the same basic technology: blowing air through molten pig iron to oxidize the metal and separate impurities.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and the American Society of Civil Engineers contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.