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Library - Aluminum Generates Lowest Carbon Footprint vs. Steel

Study Confirms Aluminum Generates Lowest Total Carbon Footprint vs. Steel

December 2018

The Aluminum Association’s Aluminum Transportation Group recently released an all-new, critically reviewed life cycle assessment (LCA) study confirming that automotive aluminum generates the lowest total carbon footprint. The LCA examines cradle-to-grave environmental footprint reductions of an advanced aluminum pickup truck body design in comparison with a baseline design using high-strength steel (HSS) and advanced high-strength steel (AHSS). The study confirms the aluminum body offers the potential to lower a vehicle’s life cycle global warming potential and primary energy demand by 7.8 metric tons of CO2 equivalent and 110 gigajoules, respectively. This is equivalent to total energy savings of nearly 11 million barrels of oil over the lifetime of a 600,000-unit vehicle production fleet.

The work was carried out for the Aluminum Association by EDAG, a leading engineering partner to the worldwide automotive industry, and assess the life cycle performance of an advanced aluminum body design for a Silverado 1500 crew cab as compared to the baseline 2014 truck with its HSS and AHSS body.

Note that only design elements considered to be practical based on both technical feasibility and cost efficiency were used, and that extensive CAE (computer aided engineering) simulations were used to ensure appropriate crashworthiness, stiffness and strength.

The resulting EDAG/AA structure makes wide use of 6xxx aluminum (T-6) for body sides, outer panels, roof, floors and back panels. A front-of-dash panel uses 5XXX alloy.

The final design uses over 238 kg (525 lbs.) of aluminum – about 19 kg (41 lbs.) of which is extrusion – as compared to the 11 kg (approx. 24 lbs.) of aluminum in the baseline vehicle.

With the design set, a “cradle to grave” life cycle analysis was conducted for the light-weight design vehicle compared with the baseline truck. This analysis considers the environmental impact of the materials employed, the vehicle manufacturing process, a use phase – 290,000 km in this case, and end-of-life disposal. The resulting LCA data, reviewed by a panel of independent experts to assure conformance with ISO 14040, shows the difference between the environmental impact of the light-weight design and the baseline.

The complete study can be found on the Aluminum Association website here.

Also, you can find Life Cycle Data specific to extrusions in the AEC’s two Environmental Product Declarations:


Home page 2014 Silverado Image: GM

Lightweight Body Design Image: The Aluminum Association