Tata steeled for EV future

Materials World magazine
4 Mar 2020

Tata Steel Europe has announced plans to get on board the electric vehicle industry to embed the company into a growing market. Ceri Jones reports.

In February 2020, Tata Steel Europe launched a 20-year automotive strategy built upon the three pillars of sustainability, electrification and digitalisation. Moving away from the financial struggles of the previous year, the company has planned to align itself with the rapidly growing electric vehicle market in a bid to share a portion of that success. Packaged as the Automotive Mission campaign, Tata stated that this initiative will enable it to lead ‘a new era of manufacturing’.

‘We have identified in the strategy key megatrends in the market, which are sustainability, digitalisation and electrification, but we regard sustainability as the key megatrend that is driving the others,’ said Tata Steel Marketing Manager Automotive, Basja Berkhout, in a press conference on 11 February.

Part of the project is to help the company reach a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, and to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Berkhout said as OEMs are striving to decarbonise their products, Tata must work in accordance with these commitments to meet the changing market demands. ‘Vehicles need to become greener over their complete lifecycles,’ he said. ‘It is not only about usage anymore, but about production and recycling.’

Steel strategy

The Automotive Mission predicts that as the uptake of electric vehicles (EV) rises, and as 5G technology make self-driving and autonomous cars a reality, ownership will fall and large numbers of shared cars will be on the road for longer and idle far less. Also, that new fuel technologies will mean EVs produce less emissions to help reach net-zero by 2050.

The sustainability pillar will have a three-pronged approach – responsible supply chains, best use of resources, and robust carbon and emissions management. To contribute to the roll-out of more environmentally friendly vehicles, the company is aiming to make improvements across its entire materials and processing value chains.

To achieve this, 40% of the initiative’s investment budget is allocated to a state-of-the-art casting facility in the Netherlands to support sustainable operations and electrification technology. The remaning funds will go to automation capabilities, especially galvanising lines, as well as improving production of advanced and high-strength steel, slab casting, rolling and generating of third-gen ultra high-strength steel.

In the longer term, Tata Steel is advancing its HIsarna technology which it hopes will some day replace blast furnaces to significantly lower carbon emissions by as much as 80% for primary steelmaking, when combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The HIsarna pilot plant is currently on schedule and the first scale-up demonstration is planned to take place at headquarters in India.

‘HIsarna is able to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80%, if you combine this with CCS, which is much easier to do with this facility than with a blast furnace.

‘It also allows an increase in the amount of scrap being used [up to 50%], but also the amount of zinc-coated scrap, which is quite difficult and cannot be done in a blast furnace,’ said Bekhout.

Technical materials

The major branch of sustainability includes internal processes like recycling, waste reduction and materials recovery and reuse, as well as advising customers on lifecycle approaches for products on order. Combining these, Tata aims to reduce carbon emissions by four mega tonnes by 2030 at its IJmuiden, Netherlands, location alone.

Further savings have been made by digitalisation, implementing trends in smart, efficient and automated manufacturing practices. ‘In collaboration with McKenzie we have developed advanced analytics and through these have managed to save about 20% of yield losses, only for the steel plant,’ said Berkhout.

Innovation is also forging ahead, with the firm developing new product lines especially for the needs of a more advanced era of EVs. Tata is working on developing electro-plated steels for batteries, e-steels for motors and strip steels for structural protection, as well as a range of single-layer, high-strength steel at a lower thickness for lightweighting.

Tata Steel Europe hopes its Automotive Mission, with better use of materials, digital engineering services and, eventually, achieving predictive manufacturing capabilities, will position the company as the leading EV materials manufacturer.

According to Berkhout, with these tools now in place, the company is aiming to work directly with manufacturers on design and construction ‘to arrive at a second generation of electric vehicles’.