Aluminum R&D for Automotive Uses and the Department of Energy's Role
Aluminum R&D for Automotive Uses and the Department of Energy's Role The use of aluminum in automotive applications is expanding. Aluminum offers a lower-weight alternative to steel, potentially increasing the efficiency of vehicles. However, the application of aluminum has been only in select areas of use, most notably cast aluminum in the engine, transmission, and wheels. Other areas offer the potential for growth that could significantly expand the amount of aluminum used in vehicles. Cost is the main barrier to increased aluminum use. Related to cost are aluminum production technologies that are not yet advanced enough to produce aluminum components at low enough price points for aluminum to compete with traditional automotive materials. Today's technologies require higher-priced alloys to be used for the components (e.g., closure panels), or have higher costs for needed processes (e.g., welding). In addition, new designs (e.g., spaceframes) are not well established for widespread use. R&D efforts are continuing to close these gaps. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is helping to fund certain R&D projects that could provide breakthroughs in lowering costs for aluminum. This paper describes the current state of aluminum applications in vehicles, including its market penetration and opportunities. It also examines the cost structure of aluminum--from mining to final component use. By examining more »
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