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Alcoa is working on a project to produce lightweight structures

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Life cycle emissions

In the last part of this series, we discussed the metal life cycle. It’s important to understand the complete life cycle emissions in order to compare steel and aluminum. The Oakridge National Laboratory (or ORNL) completed a life cycle study on aluminum vehicles’ carbon dioxide (or CO2) emissions. It compared the CO2 emissions for aluminum vehicles and steel vehicles.

It’s important to note that ORNL is affiliated with the US Department of Energy (or DOE).

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ORNL’s findings 

According to the ORNL study, emissions from aluminum-intensive vehicles (or AIVs) reach the break-even point with vehicles made of standard steel at ~12,000 miles. This is because aluminum production is an energy-intensive process.

AIV’s break-even point with vehicles made of light steel is ~39,000 miles. You can also say that AIV’s life cycle emissions are lower only after the vehicle runs for more than 39,000 miles.

The above chart summarizes ORNL’s study. The study was underwritten by the Aluminum Association. The study also accounted for the electricity that’s consumed in aluminum production.

Alcoa is working on a DOE project

Alcoa (AA)—along with Honda and Magna Cosma—is working on a project under a DOE grant. The objective is to produce ultra-high strength body structures. The structures will be lighter by at least 35%—compared to high-strength steel products.

It’s important to note that high-strength steel products are lightweight steel products. ArcelorMittal (MT) and AK Steel (AKS) are two of the companies producing these products. US Steel Corp. (X) also wants to develop these products. The SPDR S&P Metals and Mining ETF (XME) invests in these companies.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at how steel companies are bracing themselves for the aluminum onslaught.

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