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Tires, Steel, Power Grids: How Electric Vehicles Will Change the Businesses of Goodyear, Cleveland Cliffs and FirstEnergy

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Electric vehicles are coming, but automakers aren’t the only ones adapting.

Cleveland-Cliffs sells a new type of steel and sells more of it. Goodyear has already launched certain EV tires. And FirstEnergy, which has subsidiaries like Edison, Ohio and Illuminating, needs to make sure the grid is ready to charge them all.

But electric vehicles aren’t around the corner. As of 2020, less than 1% of the transportation sector depends on electricity, according to the US Department of Energy. Vehicles with internal combustion engines, often called ICE vehicles, will still dominate the roads in the near future.

The future of electric vehicles will change the landscape for several businesses in Northeast Ohio every time it comes along. And they are already looking ahead.

How EVs are driving the evolution of Goodyear tires

Electric cars, like petrol cars, of course, run on tires. But many things need to be improved on these tires, explained David Reese, Goodyear’s vice president of product development.

“The pace has definitely accelerated in the last few years, but these are things we’ve been working on for at least a decade,” said Reese.

Some changes are intuitive. The average electric car is heavier than a conventional car, so the tires have to withstand heavier loads.

Known for fast acceleration, electric motors also produce a lot of torque, so they need a more durable tread.

Other changes are more subtle, such as reducing tire rolling resistance (the friction between the tire and the road that the vehicle must overcome to move). Lower rolling resistance improves the fuel economy of your vehicle whether it uses gasoline or electricity.

Range has been a big focus for electric vehicle makers, Reese said.

Less noticeable changes: What about the tires? The internal combustion engine is loud and masks the noise the tires make. But electric cars are much quieter, so drivers are more likely to notice tire noise.

Goodyear developed SoundComfort technology, Reese said. It has built-in foam to reduce tire noise.

Another change centered around self-driving cars involves non-pneumatic tires. These tires are airless and therefore puncture resistant. For some applications, such as self-driving robots making deliveries, this will be a bigger focus, Reese said.

Many of these changes were already on the radar for Goodyear. But Reese said electric vehicles are accelerating the evolution of tires.

Many electric car makers are choosing to use Goodyear tires in their vehicles, he said. In December, the company launched the ElectricDrive GT, its first replacement tire for electric vehicles.

“OEMs[Original Equipment Manufacturers]are helping to boost the industry,” Reese says. “We are thrilled to be an integral part of this new vehicle architecture.”

How will FirstEnergy coordinate charging and get electric cars on the grid

Imagine if every house on the block had a dryer at the same time. If more drivers choose electric vehicles over petrol ones, using the grid could become a reality.

That’s the future FirstEnergy is preparing and why it’s proposing a pilot program aimed at EV charging, said Camilo Serna, the company’s vice president of tariffs and regulatory affairs.

But it goes a long way. A U.S. Department of Energy study found that about 25% of vehicles in Ohio will need to be electrified to affect the distribution system. As of 2020, EVs account for 1% of vehicles in a state.

Serna said the country could reach that level in the 2030s, but it’s difficult to predict how government incentives and new vehicles will change that pace.

“We have to plan for the future where we have a lot of customers using EVs,” said Serna.

Part of that plan is a future pilot program in which drivers will use smart chargers that FirstEnergy can connect to. This will provide FirstEnergy data and allow companies to delay or schedule charging.

For example, many people come home from work and plug in their chargers at 7pm. FirstEnergy delays some chargers, schedules some to start at 9:00 PM, and schedules others to start at 11:00 PM.

Staggering the chargers reduces demand during peak hours, allowing more energy to get through the grid with fewer upgrades, Serna explained.

“What we want to do is add all this load with the least amount of investment necessary,” says Serna.

This is great for customers, Serna said, because electric vehicles have the potential to bring down electricity bills.

Rate pricing is calculated as volume plus cost, or the amount of electricity used divided by the cost of operating the grid. If electric vehicles use more electricity and FirstEnergy doesn’t have to spend a lot of money upgrading its grid, it could help lower tariffs, Serna said.

The utility is likely to upgrade the system in the future, installing new transformers and power lines, Serna said, but the grid is almost ready for electric vehicles. Utilities got a major upgrade in the 1960s and 1970s when air conditioning became popular.

FirstEnergy is also proposing a pilot program aimed at battery storage so superchargers can use the grid during off-hours. We’re also looking at fleets, such as parking lots full of delivery vehicles, and how those packages can be handled.

Electric cars need more steel and specialty materials from Cleveland Cliffs

The company’s chief financial officer, Celso Gonsalves, said Cleveland Cliff and the automaker are evenly matched. They also see the shift to electric vehicles as positive.

“Not only do we need steel for the vehicles of the future, but we also need steel to build the infrastructure for the vehicles of the future,” said Goncalves.

Cliffs is the largest steel supplier to North American automakers, and the switch to EVs means increased demand for steel. According to Goncalves, the average weight of an electric vehicle is 1.1 tonnes, while the average weight of an internal combustion engine vehicle is 1 tonne.

Goncalves says that for more than a decade, automakers have tried to make their vehicles lighter. With heavier batteries in electric vehicles, this trend reverses a bit, allowing them to handle larger loads.

But the type of steel will also change, Goncalves explained. One example is non-oriented electrical steel, a special material required for electric motors. According to him, Cliffs is currently the only steelmaker in North America supplying its steel for automobiles.

Iron is more sophisticated than people think, Gonsalves said. The Cleveland Cliffs research center works with automakers all the way through to vehicle design, and the steel used in each vehicle may vary.

“People tend to think of steel as a commodity,” Goncalves said. But it is not correct. “These are highly specified specifications that each automaker and each vehicle requires.”