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Cars may soon be filling up with unleaded parts, thanks to a new form of steel developed at the University of Pittsburgh. Manufacturers use lead-containing steel to make many automotive and other parts-the soft lead makes the alloy easier to machine, but it’s also toxic. So Pittsburgh researchers set out to find an environmentally friendly alternative.

Materials science professors Anthony J. DeArdo and C. Isaac Garcia examined the lead’s behavior at the molecular level. This insight helped them determine how tin could be used instead. The tin-containing steel can be machined at least as easily as the leaded alloy, says Bob Squier, president of Buffalo-based manufacturer Curtis Screw. In early manufacturing runs, says Squier, “It looks like it’s doing the job.” Squier’s company is part of an international consortium organized to commercialize the new steel, and has already received an order from Ford for parts made of the alloy.

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