GM invests in NanoSteel to deliver vehicle efficiency

Posted on 9 Aug 2012 by Tim Brown

General Motors venture capital subsiduary, GM Ventures, has invested in a company which has created a new class of steel designed to reduce weight of cars, improving fuel efficiency and meet more stringent fuel economy standards.

The carmaker has invested in NanoSteel, a 10-year-old, privately held steel company, based in Providence, Rhode Island. The company has developed a new type of steel alloy using nanotechnology that is designed to be thinner and higher in strength than more conventional steel, without compromising structural integrity.

According to Collision Repair magazine, Nanostructures are objects bigger than molecular-sized structures, but smaller than microscopic structures. In general, a nanostructure is a group of atoms or molecules in a space with a diameter of less than 50 nanometres. A nanometre is equal to one billionth of a metre.

NanoSteel said GM’s investment, part of a Series C round of venture funding, would enable it to “accelerate the final phases of development” of its new steel.

GM Ventures, a General Motors subsidiary created to invest in promising automotive technologies, joined lead shareholders EnerTech Capital and Fairhaven Capital Partners and five existing investors to complete the Series C financing round. Terms of the GM Ventures investment were not disclosed.

Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer, vice president of Global R&D and president of GM Ventures, said: “We are investing in NanoSteel because of the opportunity associated with their new steel alloy technology.

“Over the next several years, light weighting of vehicles will be a major focus area to improve fuel economy. NanoSteel’s nano-structured alloys offer unique material characteristics that are not available today, making them a potential game-changer,” he added.

What sets NanoSteel’s sheet steel apart from other lightweight metals is ductility, or the material’s ability to be shaped into new forms without losing core strength. Carbon fiber for instance has a fantastic strength-to-weight ratio, but unlike steel, it is expensive to produce and repair.

By comparison, NanoSteel can be produced and shaped using the same equipment used on regular steel. What’s more, NanoSteel is cold-formable, meaning the factories don’t need to use energy to heat, and then cut out shapes from the steel sheets – the material can be dealt with as it arrives.