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The Benefits of Lightening the Load

Federal Agencies Highlight Aluminum as the Leader in Meeting Fuel Economy and Emissions Regulations

In August 2011, the Obama Administration announced the nation’s first-ever fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions regulations for medium- and heavy-duty trucks built from 2014 to 2018. The regulations will require improvements to reduce the nation’s oil consumption by 530 million barrels and cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 270 million metric tons annually.

In finalizing the rule, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) evaluated aluminum, high-strength steel and composites to rate the greatest mass reduction opportunities as the industry transitions away from traditional, heavier steel. Both agencies, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), showed aluminum far above the others as having the greatest potential to safely reduce vehicle weight while boosting fuel economy and cutting emissions. 

According to the rule (sourced from pages 100-104):

“DOE reviewed prospective lightweighting alternative materials and found that aluminum has a potential to reduce mass by 40 to 60 percent.”

In contrast, the same DOE report noted in the rule

, “…identified opportunities to reduce mass by 10 percent through high-strength steel.”

The regulators also concluded,

“…we do not believe these technologies [plastics and composites] have advanced far enough to quantify the benefits of these materials…”

With growing pressure for more energy efficient vehicles and lower operating costs, the industry is addressing the demand for improved fuel economy, reduced emissions and, additional increases in payload capacity. There has never been a better time for manufacturers, fleet and owner-operators, and shippers to maximize the benefits of aluminum.

Driven largely by payload considerations, aluminum is experiencing continued growth in commercial applications. The average Class 8 truck today uses over 1,000 pounds of aluminum; making up about 4 percent of total tractor weight, and with emerging applications can reduce vehicle weight by up to 3,300 pounds. By exploring the advantages of downweighting with aluminum, truck owners and operators can experience the real value and benefits a lighter vehicle has to offer.

Increased Payload
Use of low weight, high-strength aluminum components allows trucks to carry larger cargo loads without violating weight restrictions on bridges and roadways.

Reduced Fuel Consumption
Aluminum use to reduce commercial vehicle weight increases fuel economy, leading to reduced fuel costs for operating the vehicle. Recent research shows that a one ton weight reduction can save up to 3,400 gallons of fuel over the lifetime of a vehicle.

Reduced Emissions
The increased use of aluminum in commercial vehicles reduces the overall weight of the vehicle, which significantly reduces the greenhouse gas emissions associated with global warming. As a result, truck owners and operators can save 37 tons of CO2 over vehicle life and 32 lifecycle tons for every ton of aluminum added to fleet. This equates to the potential to save 50 million tons of CO2 from a million trucks.

Lower Maintenance Costs
Increased payload capacity through downweighting equals fewer trips and less miles on the truck, ultimately saving maintenance costs associated with wear and tear on brakes and tire treads.

Improved Durability
Aluminum components are corrosion resistant which reduces the need for rust repair and increases the life cycle of the truck.

Higher Resale Value
Commercial vehicles with aluminum components maintain their value resulting in a higher residual value.

Better Recycling Rates
Aluminum is one of the most recycled materials on the planet and is infinitely recyclable, meaning commercial vehicle aluminum applications never need to be landfilled.

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