April 8, 2010 – Vol.15 No.3
CARBON FIBER FOLLOWS ALUMINUM IN FULL GREEN CYCLE.
by Bruce Mulliken. Green Energy News
The Aluminum Association is pleased that fuel economy standards are set to rise significantly here in the US. Making vehicles lighter and more efficient without making them smaller, by using more aluminum in place of steel, will generate new business opportunities for Association members. More than companies’ profits, the nation, society as a whole, will benefit from more aluminum in cars in trucks in terms of less dependence on imported oil and reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Here’s what the Association has to say in its website about the use of aluminum in car and trucks.
“Aluminum is more crash absorbent than steel and can safely cut vehicle weight without reducing vehicle size, which offers great potential, since lighter vehicles can produce fewer emissions and need less fuel or battery power to operate. In fact, consumers can get a 5 to 7 percent vehicle fuel economy improvement for every 10 percent weight reduction by substituting aluminum for conventional steel. For plug-in electric vehicles, upgrading from traditional steel to an advanced aluminum body structure offers potential cost savings of up to $3,000 per vehicle, since the stored energy requirements of expensive batteries can be cut by 10 percent. Both aluminum-structured hybrids and aluminum-bodied diesels could return about a 13 percent increase in fuel economy, as compared to steel-bodied hybrids and diesel vehicles.”
“In terms of emissions, light weighting the world’s overall transportation fleet through the use of aluminum has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 660 million tons annually, or nearly nine percent of global, transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. In the auto sector, using aluminum can save a net 20 pounds of CO2 over the typical life cycle of a vehicle for each pound of aluminum replacing two pounds of iron or steel – and more than 90 percent of automotive aluminum is recovered and recycled.”
Aluminum is, of course, recyclable needing only 5 percent of the energy to turn it into new products than was needed to make it in the first place from bauxite ore.
In some cases, too, primary aluminum smelting is accomplished by using renewable energy. For example, there are two aluminum plants in Iceland (and a third may be underway) which use clean geothermal power, which the island nation is known for.
However, it’s not just aluminum that’s used to make vehicles lighter and more energy efficient. Lightweight high-strength steels help, as does the extensive use of plastics. Slowly, however, there’s another material that’s being incorporated into vehicles: carbon fiber composites.
With a new project just announced, carbon fiber composites are following a similar supply path as aluminum: made with renewable power, used to save energy and emissions, and recycled at the end of life.
SGL Group, a global manufacturer of carbon products, and BMW Group have announced that their joint venture, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC will build a state-of-the-art carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Moses Lake, Washington. Phase one will be an investment of $100 million in a facility that will make carbon fibers that will be used exclusively for ultra light weight carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) for BMW’s upcoming electric Megacity vehicle.
Adding an additional level of greenness above saving energy in a vehicle, the plant itself will be powered by renewable and emission-free hydropower. Further, completing the green supply chain, the companies are working to together developing processes to recycle carbon fibers and downstream composite materials. Sounds a lot like aluminum, doesn’t it?
Carbon fiber from the plant will be an export item for the US. The final assembly of the Megacity vehicle will be in Leipzig, Germany. The urban mobility vehicle is targeted for launch before 2015.
The Moses Lake operation will create 80 local green jobs.
Aluminum Association: Aluminum in Transportation
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