Auto Tech

NanoSteel to save weight, fuel in GM cars

GM Ventures provided funding to NanoSteel to develop high-strength steel body panels.

The use of new, high strength, lightweight steel products could end up saving fuel for GM vehicles.

With increasing numbers of airbags, side-impact beams, and other safety reinforcements, cars have gained weight over the last 20 years. And with that extra poundage comes decreased fuel economy. Now, as automakers search for ways to comply with new CAFE rules in the U.S. and CO2 limits in Europe, bringing automotive weight back down is one obvious target. GM is looking to a company called NanoSteel, which is developing a new steel alloy that could shave weight without compromising safety.

NanoSteel has developed new iron-based alloys through nano-structuring, and says it can have automotive-grade sheet metal products ready in 2013. The company specified three sheet metals with tensile strengths of 950 MPa, 1200 MPa, and 1,600 MPa, greater than current aluminum alloys used for automotive body panels, but less than carbon fiber.

NanoSteel says that its new alloys will let automakers use thinner gauge steel in their cars, lessening the weight. The new steel alloys can be worked at the same temperatures and on the same equipment as current steel used for automotive parts.

GM Ventures, an investment arm of GM, joined other investors to infuse NanoSteel with an undisclosed amount of funding. NanoSteel already produces commercial products in the form of industrial coatings. The new steel products will be available next year, but GM and other automakers will need time to test and engineer them into new models.