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 use phase.


As an infinitely recyclable material, aluminum gives manufacturers a sustainable end-of-life solution for their products. Recycling aluminum only uses 5% of the energy required to make new aluminum ingot. In addition, recycled aluminum creates 95% less greenhouse gas emissions than new aluminum, 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 aluminum and a wide variety of our products. To meet this growing need, we are developing new 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 hold the aircraft 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. They want planes that are less expensive to fly, have longer inspection intervals and useful lifetimes, and offer enhanced comfort for the flying public.


To help aircraft manufacturers 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 new technical solutions that enable aircraft to achieve lighter weight and significantly expanded 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;
  • Lower fuel use per seat by approximately 50% compared to the last generation and up to 16% compared to the current generation; and
  • Deliver passenger comfort features equivalent to composite-intensive planes, such as higher cabin pressure, large windows, and higher humidity.

In November 2011, we signed a technology-sharing agreement with Embraer S.A. that will utilize our proprietary aluminum alloys, advanced design and manufacturing techniques, and fastener technologies to support Embraer’s development of new high-performance metallic fuselage and wing solutions for its family of aircraft.


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.



Globally, stricter government regulations and increasing fuel prices are driving consumers to demand greater automotive fuel efficiency. In response, automakers are adopting materials that offer lighter weight while meeting durability, safety, and performance needs.


In 2012, the U.S. government finalized stricter standards for vehicle fuel economy. 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. This is nearly double the standard in place for 2012.


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 (327 pounds) in 2009 to an estimated 249 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. The estimated amount of aluminum on North American light vehicles is projected to reach 171 kilograms (377 pounds) in 2013.


Alcoa Wheels

Alcoa wheels

Our aluminum automotive solutions include body sheet, brazing sheet (which we invented), wheels, and extrusions, and we also produce automotive fasteners. Compared to steel, our aluminum solutions can be up to 50% lighter.


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 a car’s weight can result in a 7% reduction in the vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions. (Source: The Aluminum Association)
  • For every one 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 carbon dioxide (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)


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.


We are in the midst of a US$300 million expansion at our Davenport, Iowa, USA, plant to meet rising aluminum demand from the automotive market. The expansion is expected to be completed at the end of 2013 and will create 150 additional full-time jobs at the plant and about 200 to 300 contractor jobs during construction.


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 trucks built in model years 2014 through 2018 to reduce oil consumption by a projected 530 million barrels and greenhouse gas pollution 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.


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

Click image to enlarge


Our global line of forged aluminum wheels earned Cradle to Cradle® Certification at the Silver level in 2012. 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 early 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 granting 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.


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 28 kilograms (62 pounds) of CO2 in articulated trucks and 45 kilograms (99 pounds) in city buses for every one 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.


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. 


New forged truck wheel

New forged truck wheel for the European market

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.


To help customers understand the benefits of aluminum over a product’s entire life cycle, we developed an online tool called CalcuLighter 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$25 million in a new facility at our location in Barberton, Ohio, USA—the first of its kind in North America—that uses innovative technology to produce billet from re-melted scrap aluminum that will then be used to make new wheels. The advanced recycling and casting process will reduce our energy consumption by 25%, lower our greenhouse gas emissions, and produce 100% recycled aluminum wheels. The facility became operational in 2012.


In December 2012, we opened our first wheels production facility in Suzhou, China, creating a full wheel manufacturing, distribution, sales, and service network in the country.
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 diesel-engine steel bus, 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, which launched the first two prototype buses in November 2011 in Changsha City, plans to build 1,000 aluminum electric buses for China, as well as Southeast Asia and global markets. In 2012, BYD announced plans to begin producing some of its electric buses at a facility in California (USA). 


Related Links

Aerospace Market

Automotive Market

Commercial Transportation Market

Alcoa Wheel Products

Product Design and Life Cycle
Industrial & Engineered