Talk about aluminum
lightweighting of vehicles tends to center on passenger cars
and light trucks. However, aluminum has experienced more than
30 years of continual growth in commercial applications, driven
largely by payload considerations.
The use of aluminum applications
in commercial vehicles continues to rise steadily, with more
than 65 percent of the tractor-trailer market adopting aluminum
wheels today compared with 60 years ago, for example. The
average Class 8 truck today uses more than 1,000 pounds of
aluminum, and with additional emerging applications, vehicle
weight could be reduced by up to 3,300 pounds. By exploring the
advantages of lightweighting with aluminum, truck owners and
operators can experience the real value and benefits a lighter
vehicle has to offer, aluminum industry advocates say.
Overall, the amount of aluminum
in vehicles is not only increasing, but also spreading across
market segments and application types due to the many cost and
fuel economy benefits that lightweight aluminum manufacturers
claim to offer.
With growing pressure for more
energy-efficient vehicles and lower operating costs, the
trucking industry is dealing with demands for improved fuel
economy, reduced emissions and additional increases in payload
Commercial trucks account for a
growing portion of overall U.S. fuel consumption and, as such,
represent a prime opportunity for lightweighting, said Doug
Richman, vice president of engineering and technology at Kaiser
Aluminum Corp., who also serves on the executive and technical
committees of the Aluminum Associations Aluminum
Transportation Group (ATG).
Total fuel consumption in the
United States has doubled to 12 billion barrels of fuel per day
from 6 billion barrels in the early 1970s, and commercial
vehicles share of that total has grown to 25 percent from
15 percent, Richman said. For that reason, its
become far more important to address fuel consumption in the
heavy-duty truck sector.
The direct benefits of
lightweighting trucks include a higher payload and reduced fuel
consumption, according to Richman. The indirect benefits
include reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) and particulate emissions,
potentially lower maintenance costs and greater vehicle
A transition to strong,
affordable and carbon-reducing aluminum already is under way,
which will enable cars and trucks to get lighter not
necessarily smaller and more fuel-efficient. As (government
agencies) have agreed, such a transition is a good thing both
for consumers and the environment, Richman said.
In the commercial vehicle
sector, the metal has made strides by allowing drivers to carry
heavier loads per trip and lowering fuel consumption. The
results showcase aluminums improvements in areas such as
emissions, natural resources use, worker safety and training,
The annual return on investment
for materials substitution with aluminum on a single vehicle is
estimated to be as high as 1,612 gallons of fuel and 17.9 tons
of CO2. Downweighting with aluminum provides benefits not only
to the environment but also to owners and operators, Richman
said. A vehicle can yield fuel-economy improvements of 5 to 7
percent when weight is reduced by 10 percent. A 1-ton weight
reduction with aluminum could save up to 3,400 gallons of fuel
over the lifetime of a vehicle.
Reducing vehicle weight
lowers fuel consumption, costs and greenhouse gas
emissions, said Wade Long, marketing product manager for
Volvo Trucks North America, a division of Sweden-based Volvo
The European Aluminium
Association recently released its Sustainable Development
Indicators report, which examined the industrys efforts
toward competitive, eco-friendly growth. The report said that
aluminum-intensive trailers on the road in Europe are
eventually dismantled directly on the continent and recycled at
a very high rate. Current end-of-life processing practices were
analyzed through four actual dismantling case studies,
including a road tractor, a flatbed tractor-trailer, a silo
tractor-trailer and a tipping body. The case study review
suggested a minimum recycling rate of 95 percent in Europe.
Across the globe, the
transportation sector is racing to revolutionize commercial
vehicles with an eye toward improved performance. Whether it be
faster acceleration or better cargo capacity, the challenge is
to achieve these goals while reducing every vehicles
footprint on the Earth.
The aluminum industry says it
offers a simple solution: Lightweighting with aluminum allows
vehicles to have increased fuel efficiency and produce fewer
tailpipe emissions linked to climate change because they
require less power to get around, making them the ultimate
The return on investment
for downweighting with aluminum is even higher when combined
with other improvements like aerodynamics, engine optimization
and low rolling resistance, said Randall Scheps, ATG
chairman and director of Alcoa Inc.s ground
transportation market sector team.
The ATG said that aluminum use
in commercial vehicles offers a number of benefits:
- Increased payload: Use of
low-weight, high-strength aluminum components allows trucks to
carry larger cargo loads without violating weight restrictions
on bridges and roadways.
- Reduced fuel consumption:
Aluminum use to reduce commercial vehicle weight increases fuel
economy, leading to reduced fuel costs for operating the
vehicle. Recent research shows that a 1-ton weight reduction
can save up to 3,400 gallons of fuel over the lifetime of a
- Reduced emissions: The increased use of aluminum in
commercial vehicles reduces the overall weight of the vehicle,
which significantly reduces the greenhouse gas emissions
associated with global warming. As a result, truck owners and
operators can reduce CO2 emission by 37 tons over the life of
the vehicle and 32 life-cycle tons for every ton of aluminum
added to a fleet.
- Lower maintenance costs:
Increased payload capacity through lightweighting equals fewer
trips and miles on the truck, ultimately saving maintenance
costs associated with wear and tear on brakes and tire
- Improved durability: Aluminum
components are corrosion-resistant, which reduces the need for
rust repair and increases the life cycle of the truck.
- Higher resale value:
Commercial vehicles with aluminum components maintain their
value, resulting in a higher residual value.
- Better recycling rates:
Aluminum is one of the most recycled materials on the planet
and is infinitely recyclable, meaning commercial vehicle
aluminum applications never need to be landfilled.
To quantify the additional weight-savings potential aluminum
offers to Class 8 vehicles, the Aluminum Association
commissioned Ricardo Inc., a multi-industry consultant for
engineering, technology, project innovation and strategy, to
study the fuel efficiency impact of downweighting Class 8
trucks and trailers in the United States.
The study simulated different
configurations of vehicles and payload conditions unloaded,
gross vehicle weight (GVW) and half-GVW loadfor the major drive
cycles that represent commercial transportation in the United
States. In addition to the impact of weight savings alone, the
study analyzed the combination of weight savings and
aerodynamic drag reduction. The study concluded that
significant freight and fuel efficiency, as well as emissions
reduction, are available today with the appropriate use of
lightweight solutions, such as aluminum.
Transporters using trucks that
are downweighted might be able to carry 6.5 percent more
payload per trip, which means fewer trips and an effective fuel
and emissions savings of 6.5 percent. The annual return on
investment for materials substitution with aluminum on a single
vehicle is estimated to be as high as 1,612 gallons of fuel and
17.9 tons of CO2.
Strategic weight reduction
with aluminum is a smart business tool that is rising in
importance and recognized by truck and engine makers, as well
as regulators, Scheps said. The use of aluminum
opens an opportunity for the industry to increase fuel economy
and efficiency to meet tough new regulations while providing
companies with more profit through greater payload capacity,
lower fuel costs, lower maintenance costs and higher resale
value. Across the board, aluminum delivers like no other
When considering those results
for the total U.S. fleet, estimated at 2 million vehicles, the
overall economic and ecologic impacts of weight savings is
estimated at as much as 1 billion gallons of diesel and 10
million tons of CO2 per year.
When combining the
weight-reduction potential with an 8-percent improvement in
aerodynamic drag, the overall fuel economy improvement for an
aluminum-intense vehicle relative to a conventional vehicle is
as high as 8.2 percent.
Based on other related studies
and data on the benefits of aluminum, the ATG said it was able
to make calculations related to life-cycle CO2 emissions and
other improvements and benefits. While aluminum is a relatively
energy-intensive material to produce, on a full life-cycle
analysis basis, aluminum saves CO2. Ninety-five percent of the
CO2 footprint of a truck occurs during the use phase of the
vehicle, during which aluminum generates the largest savings.
Including the CO2 generated in production, every pound of
aluminum that replaces heavier steel saves a net 15 pounds of
CO2 over the life cycle of the truck.
At last years Society of
Automotive Engineers High Efficiency Heavy Duty Vehicles
Symposium, Scheps discussed the benefits that aluminum provides
the industry as it strives to meet first-ever fuel-economy
regulations for commercial vehicles.
The regulations, announced by
the Obama administration last fall and embraced by truck and
engine manufacturers as well as environmental groups, identify
aluminum above all other materials as having the greatest
potential to safely reduce vehicle weight, boost fuel economy
and cut CO2 emissions, he said. During his presentation, Scheps
highlighted research findings that address aluminum weight
savings benefits, including:
- Overall weight reduction:
Aluminum has the potential to save up to 3,300 pounds on a
vehicles weight. Specifically, substituting aluminum for
roof cabs saves 60 pounds; cab floors, 56 pounds; frame rails,
435 pounds; cab rear walls, 49 pounds; and cab cross-members,
- Fuel economy benefits: Weight
reduction can yield a savings as high as 1,612 gallons of
diesel fuel per vehicle each year, equating to nearly 1 billion
gallons of diesel annually for the current U.S. fleet.
- Reduced CO2 emissions:
Downweighting with aluminum saves up to 17.9 tons of CO2
emissions annually per vehicle.
The aluminum industry submitted
comments on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys notice
of intent to draft greenhouse gas emissions and mileage
standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses for model years
2014-17. In its comments, the Aluminum Association cited
research that indicates heavy-duty vehicle aluminum components
can achieve a 2,360-pound (14 percent) reduction in typical
tractor weight. Lighter vehicles use less fuel, making vehicle
weight a key component in meeting the proposed standards.
EPA and NHTSA have done a
good job in the difficult task of categorizing and developing
an appropriate regulatory approach for each category in their
first-ever effort to regulate the fuel economy for these
vehicles. To meet the tough new fuel economy and emissions
regulations being proposed, next-generation commercial vehicles
will need to be lighter, cleaner and more fuel-efficient and
aluminum delivers on all fronts, Scheps said.
He said that aluminum is the
most environmentally friendly way to downweight a vehicle.
Vehicles made lighter with aluminum produce fewer overall
emissions and need less fuel or battery power to operate. And
every pound of aluminum saves some 20 pounds of CO2 emissions
over the lifetime of a vehicle. In fact, downweighting the
worlds overall transportation fleet through the use of
aluminum has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
by 660 million tons annually, or nearly 9 percent of global,
transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Recycling aluminum saves nearly
95 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with
primary aluminum production. Nearly 90 percent of auto aluminum
is recovered and recycled, and 73 percent of all aluminum ever
produced is still in use today, the ATG said.
Independent analysis from a 2010
magnesium industry study conducted by the Magnesium Front End
Research Development Project confirmed that aluminum has the
smallest carbon footprint of competing materials when
considering the full life-cycle of production, manufacturing,
on-the-road use and end-of-life recycling. According to the
study, magnesium delivers a 15-percent energy savings compared
with steel, and aluminum yields a 20-percent energy savings.
When considering total life-cycle CO2 emissions, magnesium is
12 percent better than steel and aluminum is 20 percent better,
according to the study.
The aluminum industry has worked
successfully to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through
voluntary initiatives and continuous technological advances. In
the past 10 years, CO2 emissions have been reduced by 10
percent and perfluorocarbon emissions have been reduced by more
than 80 percent compared with 1990 levels, the ATG said.