More and more of the world’s vehicle manufactures are planning to turn away from heavy steel components and head toward increased use of aluminum.
The demand for aluminum is expected to more than double by 2025. Carmakers are looking for lightweight products as an alternative to the heavier steel. It’s a move to meet tightening fuel efficiency regulations set by governments and consumers around the world.
The Automotive Industry has been the largest user for aluminum in North America over the past twenty years. However in 2009 we witnessed the worst year for automobile sales since 1982 and from that dramatic downturn automotive applications accounted for less that 24% of aluminum shipments.
Aluminum's use in vehicles is now quickly returning due to a heightened need for fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicles. Automakers appreciate that the use of lightweight aluminum body structures permits them to downsize other parts of the vehicle. Aluminum can provide a weight savings of over 50% compared to an equivalent steel structure.
As the markets tighten on fuel standards, carmakers are forced to respond. According to the reports, the aluminum producers are getting calls from many wanting to increase the aluminum content. Questions are coming about how they can convert vehicle bodies from steel to aluminum and convert hoods and doors from steel to aluminum.
The talk is that they expect aluminum consumption to go from 11.5 million tons in 2011 to an anticipated 25 million tons by 2025. The average vehicle would contain 250kg of aluminum instead of the 155kg in today’s vehicles. This increase would more than double the auto industry’s overall rate of aluminum usage, that’s a lot of beer cans.
Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz have relied on aluminum to reduce overall weight for a long time now, however BMW have developed over time the use of carbonfibre or carbonfibre reinforced plastics in their i3, i8, M3 and M6 to aid performance and improve dynamics. Use of the lightweight alloys is not new in the auto industry but these kinds of levels could be quite different.
Calculated over a lifetime, the fuel savings for aluminum vehicles could amount to between 2,000 – 3,000 liters of petrol, or almost $5,000 at current NZ petrol prices. The other top consumers of aluminum are beverage cans, the packaging industry, building and construction.