Lifecycle Study Concludes Aluminum is the Best Choice for Automobiles

Alcoa (NYSE:AA) today praised a new study concluding that lightweight, strong and infinitely recyclable aluminum 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. The study concluded that utilizing aluminum results in lower lifecycle energy and GHG emissions than steel or magnesium for all scenarios. Aluminum's "breakeven distance" is less than 36,000 km (only 16,300 miles), highlighting aluminum's vehicle mass reduction and recycling benefits.

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

The study was presented at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress in Detroit this week. The authors, from Natural Resources Canada,, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Australia Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and Beijing University of Technology, compared the energy and environmental impacts of using aluminum, 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. Aluminum 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 GHG emissions vis-à-vis steel within the expected life of the car. But overall, the aluminum design is still better achieving the breakeven distance from energy use and GHG 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

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type