Transport is the single largest sector for aluminium products in Europe, absorbing almost 40% of industry output. Its lightweight characteristics reduce the weight of a range of vehicles from passenger aircraft to cars, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.
Aluminium’s light-weighting properties mean it already makes a substantial contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and improving fuel efficiency. Aluminium’s lightweighting properties enable cars produced in Europe this year to prevent 50 million tons of unwanted CO2 in vehicle emissions during their lifetime. This makes a substantial contribution to reducing climate change.
Innovative car manufacturers such as Tesla, Jaguar Land Rover, Audi, BMW and Daimler increasingly recognise that well-engineered aluminium car parts are as safe and strong as steel but up 40% lighter. It delivers significant enhancements in performance and agility and improves fuel economy and C02 emissions.
Every kilogram of aluminium replacing steel in car manufacture reduces the overall weight of the vehicle by a further kilogram. Using 100 kg of aluminium in a car reduces CO2 emissions by up to eight grams per kilometre travelled, saving up to 46 litres of fuel per year. This is why more and more car parts are now made from aluminium. As more and more electric cars reach the market, this is increasingly important. The lighter the vehicle, the longer the range on the same charge, making them cheaper to manufacture. Aluminium is also the perfect material for many of the components that electric vehicles use. Cooling solutions, battery frames and cables are now routinely fabricated from aluminium.
The amount of aluminium in an average car has increased from 50 kg in 1990 to today’s 151 kg. Experts projects that this could rise to 196 kg by 2025.
Aluminium in cars is already an excellent example of a circular economy. More than 90% of the metal is recovered after the end of the vehicle’s life-cycle and re-used to create new aluminium products.
As well as cars, aluminium is now widely used in trucks, particularly those carrying freight and therefore approach the maximum permitted vehicle weight. Reducing the dead weight of the vehicle allows it to carry a greater payload instead. With the maximum weight of trucks in Europe is regulated by law, each kg of weight saved on the truck or the trailer allows an extra kg of valuable load. This means fewer journeys and lower overall CO2 emissions.
This aluminium lightweighting is now extensively used in city buses. Given their frequent start-stop cycle, lightweighting makes a rapid contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and improving air quality.
Aluminium also offers the possibility to make trucks safer in the future. In 2015, the EU decided to allow truck cabins to be longer, increasing their safety and aerodynamics. The aluminium industry has shown how to use this extra space to improve passive safety by introducing an energy-absorbing crash management system. Aluminium from trucks are recycled for more than 90%, another good example of circular economy.
Keeping aluminium in the loop. Jaguar – Land Rover launched a project to ensure that the aluminium alloys used in their cars would be separated and returned to their partner Novelis after the end of their car’s life-cycle.
Each kg of aluminium in today’s articulated trucks saves 26 kg of CO2 throughout their life-cycle.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers choose an aluminium engine for their first aeroplane because of the weight it saved. Since then, the phenomenal growth of the aerospace industries has been built on its widespread adoption of aluminium. In the Airbus A380, aluminium accounts for 61% percent of the structural weight.
Aluminium is the metal that allowed mankind to leave; even into space. Since the launch of Sputnik almost 60 years ago, aluminium has been the material of choice for all types of space structures. Its high strength to weight ratio and its ability to withstand the stresses of launch and space operation has seen, aluminium used in the Apollo missions, Skylab, the space shuttles and the International Space Station. Aluminium alloys consistently exceed other metals for mechanical stability, dampening, thermal management and reduced weight.
NASA’s Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) will serve as the next-generation space exploration vehicle. Its primary structures are made from an aluminium-lithium alloy and will be covered by an advanced version of the thermal protection tiles used on the space shuttle.
In the late 70’s and the early 80’s, many European capitals expanded their underground and tram networks, linking city centres with their suburbs. France also began to develop its high-speed train network.
This posed a range of technical challenges that aluminium was able to meet:
- For underground and tramways, lightweight vehicles meant lower running costs and better acceleration.
- For high speed trains, aluminium was essential to achieve speeds in excess of 300 km/h on traditional railway tracks.
For transporting goods and raw materials in across large geographical areas, alumimum offers considerable cost savings. Countries such as the USA, Canada, and South Africa, rich in natural resources, frequently need to transport these materials across considerable distances, between mines, production plants or port facilities. Using aluminium railcars offers increased payloads, often compensating their higher purchasing costs in under two years.
The TGV-Duplex weighs 12% less than the traditional TGV, transports 40% more passengers and provides superior passive safety.
Aluminium’s excellent resistance to corrosion makes it the perfect material for shipbuilding. It is both light but has low maintenance costs.
Aluminium has been used in shipbuilding since the 19th century. However, the real turning point for the adoption widespread of aluminium in shipping came in the early 1990’s, when European passenger and cargo sea transport grew at around 15% per year.
This increased traffic, along with the emergence of private operators meant that low running costs and high speeds offered a competitive advantages. Companies could undertake more journeys in less time while using less fuel. This stimulated demand for new vessels that could deliver economical high performance propulsion based on low weight.
The use of aluminium combined with the use of water-jet propulsion made it possible to create a new category of high-speed ferries made entirely of aluminium.