Aluminum | The Sustainability Advantage
From fuel economy to full life cycle emissions to recycling, aluminum is the most environmentally superior automotive material.
Reducing vehicle weight with aluminum increases fuel efficiency, which in turn produces fewer tailpipe emissions. That’s because lighter vehicles consume less energy (fuel or battery power) to get around. More than just reducing tailpipe emissions, however, government and auto industry studies confirm that – among competing materials – aluminum offers the smallest total carbon footprint (full life cycle or “cradle-to-grave”). This is because later stage operating efficiency improvements like lower tailpipe emissions offset the upfront energy needed to produce aluminum in the initial mining and manufacturing stages.
The global transportation industry is racing to revolutionize cars and trucks to reduce carbon emissions associated with climate change while ensuring they still meet consumer and industry needs. That’s why, in part, aluminum use in the automotive sector is at an all-time high – with further projections of accelerated growth – and automakers are projecting average vehicle aluminum content to nearly double by 2025.
Aluminum | The Life Cycle Advantage
A peer-reviewed report on product life cycle assessment by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) affirmed the use of aluminum in new vehicles to boost fuel economy offers the smallest total carbon footprint among competing materials. Specifically, an aluminum-intensive vehicle can achieve up to a 20 percent reduction in total life cycle energy consumption and up to a 17 percent reduction in CO2. Learn More.
Ford Motor Company and Magna International, as part of a U.S. Department of Energy project, conducted a Multi Material Lightweight Vehicle (MMLV) Life Cycle Assessment that found that when comparing two five-passenger sedans, the aluminum-intensive vehicle model is environmentally superior to its steel counterpart. The report compares the 2013 Ford Fusion made of advanced high strength steel to a prototype lightweight aluminum-intensive sedan, known as the Mach-I, which achieved an overall 23 percent full vehicle mass reduction and a combined fuel economy of 34 mpg as compared to 28 for the 2013 steel-bodied Fusion. Learn More.
The Automotive Science Group honored the aluminum-intensive Ford F-150 with the Best Environmental Performance award for achieving“the highest level of protection for the environment throughout its life-cycle: from raw material acquisition through end-of-life vehicle disposal and recovery.” Learn More.
A materials comparison of magnesium, steel and aluminum for front end parts of U.S. build vehicles, sponsored by the U.S., Canada and China concluded, “…the aluminum design is still better at achieving the breakeven distance from energy use and GHG emissions perspectives within the vehicle life.”Learn More.
Additional Aluminum Advantages
- An aluminum-intensive vehicle can achieve up to a 20% percent reduction in total life cycle energy consumption and up to a 17% reduction in CO2.
- The energy needed to produce primary aluminum is down more than a quarter since 1995 and carbon footprint is down nearly 40%. This is equivalent to 37 million barrels of oil saved and 25 million tons of CO2e GHG reduced per year.
- For closures and body structures, typically one pound of aluminum replaces about 1.6 pounds of steel. This significantly minimizes the up-front material production impact.
- More than 91% of automotive aluminum is recovered and recycled.
- Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without degradation to the material, with nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced since 1888 still in use today.
- Recycling aluminum saves more than 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with primary aluminum production, and requires only 8% of the energy.