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international study confirms aluminium advantage
A new study has shown lightweight, strong and infinitely recyclable aluminium is the best choice for reducing energy usage and emissions over an automobile’s lifecycle.

The study was conducted as part of the Magnesium Front End Research and Development project, an initiative tasked with developing technologies to grow the use of magnesium in automobiles.

It was concluded that utilising aluminium results in lower lifecycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions compared with steel or magnesium - for all scenarios. Aluminium’s “breakeven distance” is less than 36,000km, highlighting aluminium’s vehicle mass reduction and recycling benefits.

“In the current state of technology and within the lifetime of the vehicle, aluminium has a better (energy) performance...,” the study stated.

The study was presented at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress in Detroit recently. The authors (from Natural Resources Canada, GreenhouseGasMeasurement.com, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Australia Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and Beijing University of Technology), compared the energy and environmental impacts of using aluminium, steel or magnesium-based front end parts on a General Motors Cadillac CTS.

The study took a “cradle to cradle” approach, looking at the impact of materials choices from production, through the use phase of the vehicle, to recycling at the end of the vehicle’s life. Cradle to cradle is a more comprehensive analysis model which includes a review of the product through the end of its life, but also evaluates whether the product is actually re-used or recycled. Aluminium is infinitely recyclable and can be converted directly back into new parts without degradation versus other materials which are simply down-cycled.

“Overall large magnesium structural parts can provide environmental benefits in terms of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions vis-à-vis steel within the expected life of the car. But overall, the aluminium design is still better achieving the breakeven distance from energy use and greenhouse gas emissions perspectives within the vehicle life,” the study stated.

The Magnesium Front End Research and Development project is sponsored by Natural Resources Canada, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, the United States Department of Energy and the United States Automotive Materials Partnership. A copy of the report is available at http://www.alcoa.com/magnesiumlca.

amercian talk show host seeks assistance from alcoa
As a member of Alcoa Technical Center’s (ATC) fabrication shop in the US, Rick Dulski is used to big challenges, he’s built prototypes for many Alcoa customers, including military vehicles used by the US Army.

But the challenge presented by US TV talk show host Jay Leno may have been his biggest yet: build a car powered by a helicopter jet engine.  It was all part of Leno’s custom-built EcoJet, a turbine-engined, environmentally friendly car that runs on biodiesel fuel.
Alcoa, building on its partnership with General Motors (GM), provided structural engineering expertise, spaceframe technology and high-performance forged aluminium wheels for Leno’s high-visibility project. The car was built almost entirely at Leno’s personal garage (known as ‘Big Dog Garage’.) Design and engineering support was provided by General Motors.

Building the EcoJet took three years from idea to completion, with actual construction taking about a year.

Because the timetable to build the car was tight, once the initial design and engineering plans from GM’s Advance Design team and Alcoa were in place, construction of the structural components and the external elements began on parallel paths. After a few iterations, GM and Alcoa decided to modify a Corvette Z06 hydroformed aluminium frame, complete with aluminium and magnesium structural and chassis components.  The Corvette Z06 spaceframe was designed by Alcoa at the ATC.

The EcoJet is capable of clocking speeds well in excess of 200 mph, its speed in large part due to the lightweight aluminium frame. The challenge for Rick and Alcoa: combine performance, safety and structural support inherent in aluminium’s lightweight nature. 

“The car weighs just 2,200 pounds—about one-fourth what the steel equivalent would be,” said Rick.

“Steel would have made that vehicle way too slow.”

In testing out his new toy, Jay raced down a runway against a Lear Jet airplane and won. “You can’t do that with a bulky steel frame!” said Rick.

Even when it’s standing still, the car looks fast, thanks to highly-stylized EcoJet wheels that resemble turbine blades. Designed and produced by Alcoa’s Forged Specialty Wheels, they’re a perfect reminder of the aluminium that makes the car so special.


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Download "A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Magnesium Front End Autoparts" Paper
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Jay Leno and GM Design VP Ed Welburn talk about how the concept for Leno's custom-built EcoJet, featuring aluminium, came to life. Scroll down for full story.



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