Firm steeled for auto-design fight

'Stick with Steel - that's our motto.'

Carmakers on a frantic push to meet rising, federal fuel-economy standards are looking everywhere for new materials – from carbon fiber to plastics – that will make their vehicles lighter and more efficient. More

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Firm steeled for auto-design fight

'Stick with Steel - that's our motto.'

PBN PHOTO/CATIA CUEN
STEEL RESOLVE: Founded in 2002, The NanoSteel Co. Inc. was originally based in Florida before receiving funding to relocate to Rhode Island. Pictured above are President and CEO David Paratore, left, and Vice President of Finance Robert Marini Jr.
Posted 7/16/12

Carmakers on a frantic push to meet rising, federal fuel-economy standards are looking everywhere for new materials – from carbon fiber to plastics – that will make their vehicles lighter and more efficient.

But The NanoSteel Co. in Providence believes the old standby, steel, could be the future of the automobile, as well as the past.

The West Exchange Street company, founded to commercialize technology developed in federal defense-department laboratories, has developed new steel microstructures that are stronger than traditional forms of the metal.

And by using stronger steel, automakers can use less of it and create vehicles that are as safe as older models but lighter and more efficient.

‘Stick with Steel – that’s our motto,’ said NanoSteel CEO David Paratore. “The majority of cars have always been steel and for 100 years it has continued to evolve and improve. People believed they had been reaching the limit with steel, but they haven’t.”

The stakes for becoming the go-to material for the next generation of fuel-efficient automobiles are high.

Producers of aluminum, one of the materials competing with steel, have seen sales to the automobile industry climb steadily as carmakers use the metal in more and more parts of vehicles.

Last month the marketing director of Alcoa Inc., the leading producer of aluminum, said due to increased interest from carmakers, demand for the metal should double by 2025. Days later Alcoa hailed Tesla Motors’ introduction of an all-aluminum, all-electric sedan.

But NanoSteel sees the new nano-structured steel it announced the development of last month as a breakthrough that will keep steel on top, at least in automotive structural panels.

Where today’s new cars have structural panels the width of a nickel, Paratore says his company’s technology will eventually reduce the thickness of a panel down to the width of a dime.

Unlike previous high-strength versions of steel, the new NanoSteel design is not brittle, can be shaped and does not need to be formed at high temperatures.

This allows the new generation of automotive steel to maximize its advantages over other materials – namely the scale of existing production and economies that go with it – while dramatically reducing weight and fuel consumption.

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