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Letter to the Editor: Steel’s attack on aluminum is unmerited

By January 30, 2020 August 12th, 2020 No Comments

Lauren Wilk, Vice president, policy & international trade, The Aluminum Association, reaffirms aluminum’s environmental benefits as a leading automotive material of choice, in Automotive News.

If the facts are not on your side, pound the table and yell like hell β€” an old saying that evokes the steel industry’s latest environmental attack against the aluminum industry (“Manufacturing materials count in vehicles’ impact on planet,” Dec. 9).

When the largest material by volume regularly focuses attention on the second most used material, it suggests grave concern. Perhaps it is because, as DuckerFrontier recently confirmed again, aluminum is the fastest-growing automotive material, gaining market share from steel, year over year.

When steel industry studies boast that steel is the greatest, perhaps skepticism is merited. Here’s what independent experts confirm:

  • The EPA reviewed dozens of life-cycle analyses and confirmed, “Aluminum was identified as the material most often specified by the LCAs for providing the highest benefits in terms of life-cycle energy and [greenhouse gas] reductions.” EPA researchers also observed that no studies, other than those from the steel industry, claim steel is more sustainable than aluminum overall.
  • The Oak Ridge National Laboratory studied life-cycle carbon emissions, and its peer-reviewed report concluded that “a proven way to reduce the carbon footprint of vehicles is to further increase the use of lightweight materials, such as aluminum alloys, in place of heavier, less-efficient steels. A full life-cycle environmental analysis confirms that β€” when compared with both traditional and advanced steels in the areas of cumulative energy demand, potential ozone depletion and other likely factors in climate change β€” aluminum rises to the top as the best choice for the environment.”
  • Ford Motor Co. and Magna International Inc. released a life-cycle assessment comparing a Ford Fusion to the Mach-I, a prototype lightweight aluminum-intensive sedan that achieved an overall 23 percent vehicle mass reduction and a combined fuel economy of 34 mpg (vs. 28 mpg for the steel-bodied Fusion). This confirmed that by using an aluminum-intensive design, a high-strength steel-bodied car that has reached its maximum fuel- efficiency limit can further lower its environmental impact.
  • The Automotive Science Group’s July 2019 study found the lightweight aluminum design on the Ford F-150 led the full-size truck competition in all performance areas, and holds the smallest life-cycle carbon footprint of any full-size truck in North America.

One can choose to believe ongoing steel-funded attacks on a fast-rising competitor, or one can consider the body of evidence from the nation’s top environmental and energy regulators, a leading automaker, a major supplier, a respected science group and more. Either way, the aluminum industry will continue to focus on innovations and fact-based assessments of our own products to deliver lighter, stronger, more sustainable and higher-performing solutions for our customers.

LAUREN WILK

Vice president, policy & international trade

The Aluminum Association

This commentary was originally published by Automotive News on January 20, 2020.