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Sep 27, 2012 | 05:52 PM

Alcoa burns rubber in the steel wheel arena

Tags  Alcoa, Aloca Wheel and Transportation Products, AWTP

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In a global road race stretching from Hannover, Germany to Tacoma, Wash., Alcoa Wheel and Transportation Products (AWTP) pressed the pedal to the metal and laid down a challenge to the steel truck wheel supply chain in the form of four new forged aluminum wheels--two of which are said to offer maximum loads per wheel currently unavailable in steel--and the findings of a just-released peer-reviewed life cycle assessment which concludes that Alcoa aluminum wheels substantially cut the carbon footprint of commercial vehicles.

The study, conducted by PE International, Inc. & Five Winds Strategic Consulting, Boulder, Colo., is billed as the most comprehensive and comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) ever conducted on aluminum and steel truck wheels. “Our findings are based on the full life cycle of Alcoa forged aluminum wheels--from raw materials through production, distribution, use, disposal and recycling of the product,” Dr. Christoph Koffler, technical director, PE International & Five Winds Strategic Consulting, commented on the scope of the study in a statement.

Alcoa provided primary data for aluminum wheel production from five facilities: two in the United States (Cleveland and Barberton, Ohio), one in Mexico, Hungary and Japan. PE International provided upstream data for fuels, raw materials and steel wheel manufacturing processes, including primary metals and chemicals.

Conclusions? In North America, the study found that substituting 18 conventional steel truck wheels with Alcoa aluminum wheels cut carbon emissions by 16.3 metric tons over the lifetime of the wheels.

“As commercial vehicles face stricter regulations around reducing carbon emissions, this life cycle assessment confirms that Alcoa forged aluminum wheels support sustainable transportation and can help trucks and trailers to be greener,” Tim Myers, president of Cleveland, Ohio-based AWTP, claimed. “Compared to steel, the lighter weight and infinite recyclability of Alcoa forged aluminum wheels support greener vehicles that cut down on fuel use and carbon emissions.”

Although the study acknowledged that aluminum wheels require more energy to manufacture than steel wheels, it concluded that the light weight and recyclability of aluminum allow for a net energy savings throughout the life cycle of an aluminum wheel. A truck with aluminum wheels can see a CO2 “break even mileage” as early as 205,000 miles, or about two years, the study determined. Once this mileage is reached, all the travel on aluminum wheels produces CO2 and energy savings, it claimed.

Other major findings of the LCA include:
• Alcoa wheels maintain their value throughput their lifetime and have an end-of-life scrap value that is nearly equal to that of primary aluminum

• For mass restricted vehicles in North America, switching from steel to Alcoa forged aluminum truck wheels results in the ability to carry 414 lbs. of additional payload per haul with the same fuel consumption.

The “Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Aluminum and Steel Truck Wheels,” which was presented at the 12th Annual American Center for Life Cycle Assessment Conference in Tacoma, Wash. on September 25 is publicly available here.

A week earlier and a continent away, AWTP rolled out four new forged aluminum wheels at the 64th International Motor Show Commercial Vehicles conference in Hannover, Germany. The Alcoa business unit billed two of the four new entries as being up to 44 percent lighter than steel equivalents, offering maximum loads currently not available in steel wheels, and supporting the move to higher load-capacity tires.

The first of the two, an improved global trailer wheel featuring a maximum load of 5,500kg ( lbs.) is said to be 22.8 kg ( lbs) lighter than a comparable steel wheel. AWTP claims its second new entry is the first aluminum 45mm offset trailer wheel for inloaders, trailers designed to transport architectural glass plates and concrete parts. It is 37 percent lighter than the steel equivalent with a maximum load per wheel of 5,000 kg ( lbs.), AWTP said.

The wheels are produced at the Alcoa wheels plant in Hungary and offered in Brushed, Mirror Polished and Dura-Bright® finishes.
“There is a definite trend within the commercial vehicle industry to move to higher-load-capacity tires and these new wheels address those needs,” AWTP’s Myers said in a statement.


Jo Isenberg

Jo Isenberg is executive editor of AMM. She has been covering the steel industry for over 30 years and has served as editor of AMM for the last 11 years – the most successful decade in the publication’s long history.