Researchers Find Aluminum is Best for GHG Reductions, Energy Savings

Lifecycle analysis compares automotive materials

A head-to-head study of automotive components in different materials concludes that aluminum provides the greatest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the most energy savings. The Magnesium Front End Research Development (MFERD) project conducted a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) of steel, magnesium, and aluminum front-end parts in a Cadillac CTS.

LCA considers fuel economy, emissions savings, and environmental impacts related to mining, refining, smelting and recycling.

The results were delivered at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ 2010 World Congress in Detroit. The study was the result of a collaborative effort by aluminum trade associations in Canada, China, and the U.S.

“We appreciate the unbiased approach taken by MFERD in exploring what technologies and materials can help improve the total lifecycle performance in vehicles,” stated the Aluminum Assn.’s Aluminum Technology Group chairman Randall Scheps. “We have been saying for years that the answer to better fuel economy and lower emissions is a holistic, multi-material approach combining strong light materials like aluminum and magnesium with smart design and advanced powertrains. When you take a holistic approach, safety and comfort are not compromised – and efficiency can be greatly improved.”

The analysis showed that over the full lifecycle of each metal in a comparable design, magnesium saves 15% more energy than steel, and aluminum saves 20% more energy than steel.

In terms of reducing CO2 emissions, magnesium was found to be 12% better than steel and aluminum 20% better.

The aluminum design achieved the best lifetime performance for overall energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the research.

The Association maintains that LCA shows every kilogram of aluminum used in an automobile saves 20 kg. of CO2 emissions over the lifetime of the vehicle.

In a separate study, The Aluminum Association concluded that lightweight materials also positively impact electric vehicle performance, range, and battery size. “Everyone knows that hybrids and full-electric cars depend on expensive battery packs for energy storage” said Scheps, who is also the marketing director for Alcoa Inc. “In these powertrain configurations, we found that a dollar invested in lightweighting can save up to three dollars in battery costs, without compromising range.”

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