U.S. Steel Announces New Steel That’s Ideal For EVs
Humanity has been working with metal for a long, long time. So, it may be tempting to think that we’ve learned all there is to learn about the stuff. Even mass-produced steel is well over a century old. But, a recent announcement from U.S. Steel shows us that old dogs can still learn new tricks and help move the cleantech revolution along.
Some History (& Prehistory)
While we always hear of things like the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age, there probably wasn’t any particular date that each transition happened. But, knowing how we got to where we are today is helpful in understanding how amazing the latest technologies are.
The earliest metals worked by humans were copper and gold, as they are relatively soft and easy to shape. This started during the Stone Age, because these metals initially were relatively weak and didn’t replace stone tools and building.
It is widely believed that humans accidentally discovered copper when they began using rocks for building and toolmaking. Early humans would sometimes use rocks containing copper ore (copper mixed with other minerals) to fashion tools and weapons, and over time they discovered that by heating the rocks in a fire, they could extract the copper and mold it into usable shapes.
Copper was the first metal to be used in any significant way, dating back to the tail end of the Stone Age, or around 6000 BCE. The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley all developed copper-based tools, weapons, and artwork. Gold was also widely used by these civilizations, as well as by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who valued it for its beauty and rarity. Other metals such as silver, tin, and iron were also used in ancient times, but they were more difficult to mine and refine and thus became more widely used later on in human history.
Some researchers consider this era to be the Copper Age, but there’s some dispute on that.
Either way, the dominance of softer metals came to an end when bronze was discovered. An alloy of copper and tin (both easier to work metals), bronze is a lot harder and thus more durable. People couldn’t sustain enough heat to melt iron at the time, but still were able to make much better tools and weapons than they could with stone or copper.
Sadly (for the laggards), some civilizations figured out how to melt iron and work it sooner than others. One famous example is the Battle of Kadesh that took place in 1274 BCE between the Egyptians, who were armed with bronze weapons, and the Hittites, who had iron weapons. The Hittites were able to gain the upper hand in the battle largely due to their superior weaponry. This happened on several ancient battlefields.
By this time, there was already a metal that performed even better than iron, but it wasn’t easy to make. The exact date when steel was invented is unknown, but it is believed to have been developed in ancient times around 4,000 years ago.
The earliest methods of producing steel were through the use of a type of bloomery furnace, which produced a form of wrought iron with a small amount of steel in it. The process of creating larger amounts of steel was refined over time, with the Bessemer process being invented in the mid-19th century and the open-hearth process being developed in the late 19th century.
Why The Steel Age Ended The Iron Age
Steel is generally considered better than iron because it is much stronger, more durable, and more resistant to damage and wear. Steel is an alloy made primarily of iron and carbon, with other elements added depending on the desired properties of the metal. The addition of carbon to iron changes its properties, making it stronger and less brittle than pure iron.
This makes steel ideal for a wide range of applications, from high-rise buildings to bridges to ships and cars. Given the strength needed for these items, we probably wouldn’t have any of them without mass-produced steel to make it cheap enough to build them all.
This Wasn’t The End Of History For Metals
While mass-produced steel revolutionized the world, that didn’t mean that scientists and metallurgists just quit trying to find even better metals for various applications.
There have been many notable metal alloys invented in the 20th and 21st century. Here are a few examples:
- Stainless steel – Invented in 1913 by Harry Brearley, this iron-based alloy is resistant to staining, rust, and corrosion, making it ideal for use in cookware, cutlery, and medical instruments.
- Magnalium – This is an alloy of aluminum and magnesium, developed in the early 20th century. It is lightweight, strong, and heat-resistant, and is used in aircraft construction, as well as in the manufacture of telescopes and camera lenses.
- Inconel – This is a family of alloys made primarily of nickel and chromium, with other elements added for specific properties. It is highly resistant to corrosion, oxidation, and high temperatures, making it ideal for use in jet engines, gas turbines, and other high-temperature applications.
- Titanium alloys – These alloys combine titanium with other elements such as aluminum, vanadium, and tin to create materials that are strong, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant. They are used in a wide range of applications, from aerospace to automotive to medical implants.
- Shape-memory alloys – These alloys can change shape in response to a change in temperature or other conditions. Nitinol, a nickel-titanium alloy, is a well-known shape-memory alloy used in a variety of applications, including medical implants, dental braces, and eyeglass frames.
Overall, the development of new metal alloys continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in industries ranging from aerospace to construction to healthcare.
A Special Steel For Electrical Applications
Electrical steel, also known as magnetic steel or silicon steel, is a type of steel that is designed for use in electrical equipment, particularly those that need to generate, transmit, or use magnetic fields. It is made by adding silicon to low-carbon steel, which helps to increase its electrical resistance and reduce its magnetic losses.
In other words, instead of relying on carbon for strength (compared to raw iron) the way normal steel does, it relies on silicon, which also makes it more compatible with special electrical applications.
Electrical steel has several important properties that make it ideal for use in electrical equipment. Firstly, it has a high magnetic permeability, which means it can carry magnetic fields with relatively low energy losses. Secondly, it has low core loss, which means it generates less heat than other steel alloys when subjected to a magnetic field. Finally, it has a high saturation flux density, which means it can store more magnetic energy per unit volume than other materials.
Electrical steel is used in a wide range of applications, from transformers and generators to electric motors and relays. Its unique properties make it ideal for use in devices that require efficient magnetic energy transfer, while producing minimal heat in these special environments.
U.S. Steel Figured Out A Better Way To Produce This Steel
In a recent announcement, U.S. Steel says it has pioneered a version of electrical steel that can be made much wider and thinner than other steels. It’s supposed to be lighter, stronger, and better for electrical environments, too. Finally, it’s supposed to be more corrosion resistant.
Basically, it’s an ideal steel for electric motors, and it was announced during a time when the United States is trying to bring more automotive production back onshore. More detailed information on the metal is going to be released on the company’s website in the coming weeks.
At the Ceres Global conference in New York City, U.S. Steel Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer Richard L. Fruehauf unveiled their InduX electrical steel product during the Corporate Climate Leadership panel. Mr. Fruehauf joined other speakers in emphasizing the importance of partnerships in promoting global decarbonization efforts.
“We know achieving our goal of net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 requires extraordinary action from everyone, and we are doing our part by collaborating to find new business approaches and to develop new technologies,” said Fruehauf. “Moreover, steel’s adaptability and near-infinite recyclability make it the ideal material to build safe, modern, and sustainable societies.”
InduX electrical steel will be manufactured on the newly constructed NGO electrical steel line at Big River Steel in Osceola, Arkansas. The line construction is currently in progress and will be capable of producing up to 200,000 tons of InduX electrical steel per year once it becomes fully operational.
Featured image provided by U.S. Steel.
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