Recycling plays leading role in auto lightweighting

Dec 01, 2010 | 04:13 AM | Corinna Petry

Lightweighting vehicles to improve fuel economy remains the driving force in the design and application of metals and other materials in the automotive industry. But the environmental burden imposed through the entire lifecycle of materials—from manufacturing to use and recovery—is a growing concern for industry as governments across the globe impose stricter regulations to better control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The lightweighting trend itself is unstoppable, especially as small vehicles are desired in many regions of the world, fast-growing emerging economies are creating a middle class that wants to own vehicles, and materials must now be fashioned to handle new fuel sources, such as plug-in batteries.

The steel, aluminum and copper industries all say that the content of each of these metals entering service in a brand-new vehicle typically has already been recycled, thus creating very little emissions in the manufacturing process; is made to last the life of the vehicle without needing replacement; and is virtually 100-percent recyclable when the vehicle is scrapped.

Copper content in North American vehicles ranges from 55 to 68 pounds, according to a market study conducted by the Copper Development Association (CDA), New York. Forecasting that hybrid electric/gasoline-powered vehicles will make up 4 to 6 percent of all vehicles on North American roads within two years, the study estimated that hybrids "will use almost twice as much copper as traditional 14-volt (battery) vehicles," according to Bob Weed, vice president of the CDA's original equipment manufacturing section.....

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