Alcoa & Transportation

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Making Transportation Lighter and Greener



Aluminum is the ideal material for transportation applications. It is strong and durable, and its light weight helps reduce the overall weight of an aircraft, automobile, or commercial vehicle to improve fuel economy and significantly reduce emissions during the vehicle use phase.


As an infinitely recyclable material, aluminum gives manufacturers a sustainable end-of-life solution for their products. Recycling aluminum today only uses 8% of the energy required to make new aluminum ingot and creates 92% less greenhouse gas emissions, further reducing the carbon footprint of products that use the recycled metal.


Alcoa is actively involved in all aspects of the transportation industry. We work closely with our customers to develop more sustainable products and solutions to help them meet increasing regulations, their own sustainability goals, and customer expectations.



High jet-fuel prices are motivating the aerospace industry to produce lighter aircraft without compromising safety, performance, and durability. This creates significant opportunities for our products. To meet this growing need, we are developing innovative solutions in partnership with our customers.


Airbus A380

A million Alcoa aerospace fasteners fly on every Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane.

We produce a wide array of aluminum sheet, plate, forgings, and extrusions that provide lightweight and durable solutions for aerospace applications. We also provide fastener systems to join aircraft parts together, and we manufacture airfoils, blades, and vanes that allow jet engines to run at ever-hotter temperatures, improving energy efficiency and reducing the overall carbon footprint.


Aircraft manufacturers are continuously seeking to refresh existing or develop next-generation aircraft. Their airline customers want planes that are less expensive to fly, have longer inspection intervals and useful lifetimes, and offer enhanced comfort for the flying public.


We have partnered with aircraft manufacturers to meet this market need. We have developed new aluminum alloys and third-generation aluminum-lithium alloys that are up to 7% less dense than the current generation. We also have innovative technical solutions that reduce an aircraft’s weight and significantly expand inspection intervals.


For the next generation of short-range aircraft, our new alloys and technologies can:

  • Lower the weight of the plane by up to 10% versus composite-intensive planes;
  • Allow for a 12% increase in fuel efficiency on top of the 15% already generated by the new engines; and
  • Deliver passenger comfort features equivalent to composite-intensive planes, such as higher cabin pressure, large windows, and higher humidity.


To meet the growing demand for our new alloys, we are expanding our aluminum-lithium capacity and capabilities at three locations around the world. The largest is a greenfield state-of-the-art facility we are constructing adjacent to our Lafayette, Indiana, USA, plant. When completed in 2014, the US$90 million facility will produce more than 20,000 metric tons of aluminum-lithium alloys annually and be capable of casting round and rectangular ingot for rolled, extruded, and forged applications.


We are a member of the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA), which is recognized as the leading global industry association dedicated to pursuing and promoting environmental best practice, regulatory excellence, and sustainable developments in aircraft disassembly, as well as the salvaging and recycling of aircraft parts and materials.


In June 2013, we announced a closed-loop recycling program with Boeing to significantly increase the recycling of internal aluminum aerospace alloys used during the production of Boeing airplanes. The program will initially recycle approximately 3,600 metric tons of aerospace scrap from Boeing facilities back into new aerospace parts produced by Alcoa.



Globally, stricter government emission regulations, growing consumer demand for more fuel-efficient cars, and increasing fuel prices are driving the need for greater automobile fuel efficiency. The U.S. government, for example, finalized stricter standards for vehicle fuel economy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012. These corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards will increase the fuel economy target for light vehicles to the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, which is nearly double the 2012 target. 


In response, automakers are adopting new materials that deliver lighter weight while meeting durability, safety, and performance requirements. In early 2014, Ford Motor Company announced that its 2015 Ford F-150 truck will have a body made largely from lightweight aluminum and will weigh 700 pounds less than its steel predecessor.

Aluminum Applications on Automobiles
Future Current Auto Graphic
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The mass production of aluminum-intensive vehicles like the Ford F-150 is significantly enabled by Alcoa 951 bonding technology, which we introduced commercially in 2013. This aluminum pretreatment process results in bonds that are up to nine times more durable than previously used titanium zirconium, overcoming prior challenges with joining aluminum to itself or other materials. In addition, Alcoa 951 employs organic, environmentally friendly materials compared to other commercially available coatings, which generally contain heavy metals, are measurably thicker, and lead to potential environmental concerns and diminished performance in other manufacturing processes.

Alcoa Wheels

Alcoa wheels


According to a survey of North American automakers released in September 2011 by Ducker Worldwide, automakers will increase their use of aluminum in a vehicle from 148 kilograms (326 pounds) in 2009 to an estimated 250 kilograms (550 pounds) in 2025. The study also indicated that aluminum’s use as a percent of the overall automotive materials mix will double, reaching 16% in 2025.


Among the aluminum automotive solutions we offer are body sheet, brazing sheet (which we invented), wheels, and extrusions, as well as automotive fasteners. Compared to steel, our aluminum solutions can provide up to a 50% weight reduction.


Aluminum’s light weight saves fuel, since every 10% reduction in vehicle weight results in a fuel savings of 7% (Source: The Aluminum Association). Aluminum provides even greater benefits to hybrid vehicles with advanced powertrains, improving fuel economy by 13.5% compared to an equivalent hybrid vehicle made of steel.


The emissions reductions related to improved fuel efficiency can be significant, as demonstrated by the following:

  • A 10% reduction in an automobile’s weight can result in an up to 7% reduction in the vehicle’s GHG emissions. (Source: The Aluminum Association)
  • For every 1.0 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of aluminum used to replace higher density steel or iron components in a vehicle, there is the potential to save 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of CO2 emissions. (Source: International Aluminium Association)
  • The use of 7 million metric tons of aluminum for passenger car components instead of heavier metals will result in a potential global savings of approximately 140 million metric tons of CO2 emissions over the life of these vehicles. (Source: International Aluminium Association)


A 2013 life cycle assessment by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory compared a baseline steel Toyota Venza with an aluminum-intensive vehicle (AIV) design. Highlights of the findings include:

  • The AIV design offered a 25% reduction in vehicle weight through the use of 459 kilograms (1,012 pounds) of aluminum;
  • The weight reduction resulted in a 20% reduction in primary energy consumption and a 17% decline in CO2 emissions over the vehicle’s life cycle; and 
  • Overall, the AIV design showed the best breakeven vehicle mileage for both primary energy consumption (19,000 kilometers/11,800 miles) and climate change (1,000 kilometers/620 miles).


The recyclability of aluminum is another major sustainability benefit. Nearly 90% of aluminum is recovered and recycled at the end of a vehicle’s life.


In January 2014, we completed a US$300 million expansion at our Davenport, Iowa, USA, plant to meet rising aluminum demand from the automotive market. We also broke ground on an automotive expansion project in Alcoa, Tennessee, USA, which is projected to be completed in mid-2015. In addition, the automotive sheet capability of our new rolling mill that is part of the Ma’aden-Alcoa joint venture in Saudi Arabia is expected to start production by the end of 2014.


Commercial Transportation

Similar to the automotive sector, the commercial transportation industry is facing stricter government regulations for vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.


In the United States, new standards released in 2011 call for truck model years 2014 through 2018 to reduce oil consumption by a projected 530 million barrels and GHG emissions by approximately 270 million metric tons. The rules cite many levers that can be used to achieve the goals, including the increased use of lightweight materials, such as aluminum. Our own study shows the potential to save 1.6 to 2.0 metric tons (3,500 to 4,500 pounds) across a tractor-trailer combination through the increased use of aluminum in cabs, frame rails, wheels, and fifth wheels.


The weight and emission benefits that result from using aluminum are significant. For every 10% of weight reduction in a Class 8 truck, for example, up to a 5.5% improvement in fuel economy can be gained. An International Aluminium Institute’s life cycle assessment shows the potential to save CO2 emissions of 28 kilograms (62 pounds) in articulated trucks and 45 kilograms (99 pounds) in city buses for every 1.0 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of aluminum used to replace higher density steel or iron components.


In general, one metric ton of weight reduction equals a savings of up to 12,870 liters (3,400 gallons) of diesel fuel over a truck’s life. In addition, 18 metric tons of CO2 emissions are saved for every one metric ton of aluminum added to a trucking fleet.

Our portfolio of aluminum sheet, extrusions, and wheel products can be used to replace heavier metals for many truck components with significant weight savings, as shown in the following diagram.


Truck Components

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Our global line of forged aluminum wheels is Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM at the Silver level in North America. We are the first aluminum company, and Alcoa wheels are the first transportation product, to receive the certification, which assesses a product’s safety to humans and potential impact on the natural environment.


In 2012, we released the results of a comparative life cycle assessment that highlighted the benefits of our forged aluminum truck wheels over their high-strength steel counterparts. The peer-reviewed, ISO-compliant study found that converting one commercial truck from high-strength steel wheels to aluminum wheels can reduce the vehicle’s carbon footprint by 16.3 metric tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) in North America and 13.3 metric tons of CO2e in Europe over the vehicle’s lifetime.


To improve the fuel efficiency of commercial fleets, we introduced a new line of forged truck wheels in Europe in 2012. These wheels are up to 44% lighter than steel equivalents and support the move to higher-load-capacity tires. Of the four new wheel lines released, two offer maximum loads per wheel currently unavailable in steel. These European wheels expand our global portfolio beyond the current line of lightweight forged wheels, which includes the LvL ONE® wheel in North America.


Ultra ONE wheel

Ultra ONE heavy duty truck wheel

In March 2014, we introduced the Ultra ONE heavy duty truck wheel, which will help trucks shed weight for increased payload and fuel efficiency. The new 18-kilogram (40-pound) wheel is 47% lighter than steel wheels of the same size, enabling fleets to carry more goods while meeting stringent federal emissions regulations.


We also rolled out the Dura-Bright® EVO wheel in early 2014. The wheel is 10 times more resistant to corrosion primarily caused by road salts and weather elements than its predecessor and up to three times more resistant to chemicals, including hydrofluoric acid, found in truck wash cleaning agents.


To help customers understand the benefits of aluminum over a product’s entire life cycle, we developed an online tool called CalcuLighterTM that determines the return on investment when comparing wheel options. The CalcuLighter provides the financial benefit when replacing steel wheels with aluminum forged wheels. It calculates fuel, payload, and tire-life data, as well as trade-in value, scrap value, wheel maintenance information, and even the carbon footprint differences between wheel alternatives.


To increase the sustainability of our wheel production processes, we invested US$21 million in a new facility at our location in Barberton, Ohio, USA—the first of its kind in North America—that uses advanced technology to produce billet from re-melted scrap aluminum that is then used to make new wheels. The advanced recycling and casting process is expected to reduce our energy consumption by 25%, lower our GHG emissions and produce 100% recycled aluminum wheels. 


We also bring sustainable solutions to the commercial bus market. In China, an aluminum electric bus we helped design and develop with Shenzhen BYD Auto Co., Ltd. (BYD) is 40% lighter than a traditional steel bus body at 1.2 metric tons and has significantly more range per charge. Compared to a steel bus with a diesel engine, each aluminum electric bus is saving around 800 metric tons of CO2 over its lifetime. It also offers better battery heat management, durability, corrosion performance, and recyclability.  


BYD launched the first two prototype aluminum electric buses in November 2011 in Changsha City. In 2013, the company received orders for the bus for service at the Amsterdam airport and an additional 1,200 buses for the city of Dalina, China.


In 2013, we received an Accessory of the Year Award in the category of best safety and energy savings for the contributions of our forged aluminum wheels to China’s bus manufacturing industry. The three leading trade publications who granted the award cited these factors behind our selection—our brand influence and reputation; the application of our advanced process and technologies in the Chinese market; and our industry leadership in helping lightweight the commercial vehicle industry.


Related Links

Aerospace Market

Automotive Market

Commercial Transportation Market

Alcoa Wheel Products

Product Design and Life Cycle
Industrial & Engineered