Prof Mark Rainforth and Dr Junheng Gao created a new way of making lightweight and high strength steel that could make lighter cars that consume less fuel.
The secret is copper, which was previously shunned for weakening certain types of steel.
Today it is seen as unavoidable due to the increased recycling of cars and components that contain copper wiring.
The Sheffield method gives ‘world leading mechanical properties’ including making metal that is easier to work into shapes and more heat resistant.
The announcement comes a week after the 150th anniversary of the birth of Harry Brearley who invented stainless steel in Sheffield.
Now the duo, from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, hope to revolutionise the motor industry.
Prof Mark Rainforth, said: “The benefit of using high strength steels is that less material can be used in the vehicle, and so the total weight is reduced for the same level of performance.
“Copper is typically seen as an element to avoid by steelmakers as it can have a negative impact on certain types.
“However, what we’ve managed to do here at Sheffield is develop a completely new technique that is able to harness copper in a positive way in order to produce a truly world leading quality of steel.
“It is high strength and incredibly lightweight, meaning it can be used to manufacture vehicles that are better for the environment.”