Alcoa aluminum wheels reduce carbon footprint of commercial vehicles: study

Alcoa has released the findings of a peer-reviewed life cycle assessment (LCA), which concludes that Alcoa aluminum wheels substantially cut the carbon footprint of commercial vehicles.

In North America, the study found that substituting 18 conventional steel truck wheels with Alcoa aluminum wheels cut carbon emissions by 16.3 metric tons over the lifetime of the wheels. In Europe, replacing 12 steel wheels with aluminum cut 13.3 metric tons of carbon emissions. In addition, the study found that the use of Alcoa forged aluminum wheels over steel wheels can be viewed as an active and highly efficient investment into reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the commercial vehicle sector.

This analysis examined the entire “cradle-to-grave” production process of commercial vehicle wheels — from bauxite mining to wheel manufacturing, through a truck wheel's use phase and end-of-life, including recycling and land filling. The study incorporated the latest information on energy, material consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alcoa provided primary data for aluminum wheel production from five facilities: two in the United States (Cleveland and Barberton OH), one in Mexico, Hungary, and Japan. PE International provided upstream data for fuels, raw materials, and steel wheel manufacturing processes, including primary metals and chemicals. The study conformed to ISO methodology and was peer-reviewed by professionals in the LCA community, including experts from the Technische Universitat Berlin and the University of Michigan.

Major findings of the study include:

  • The 16.3 metric ton savings of switching one 18-wheel truck from steel wheels to Alcoa forged aluminum wheels in North America equals the average annual carbon footprint of a four-person American household.

  • Alcoa wheels maintain their value throughout their lifetime and have an end-of-life scrap value that is nearly equal to that of primary aluminum.

  • For volume-restricted vehicles in North America that are unable to add additional payload, switching from steel to Alcoa forged aluminum truck wheels produces an average lifetime savings of more than 520 gallons of fuel. In Europe, these savings amount to more than 1,942 liters.

  • For mass-restricted vehicles in North America, where lighter-weight aluminum wheels allow for additional payload, switching from steel to Alcoa forged aluminum truck wheels results in the ability to carry 414 lbs of additional payload per haul with the same fuel consumption. In Europe, the amount totals 215 kg of additional payload per haul.

  • While aluminum wheels require more energy to manufacture than steel wheels, the light weight and recyclability of aluminum allow for a net energy savings throughout the life cycle of an aluminum wheel. A truck with aluminum wheels can see a CO2 “break-even mileage” as early as 205,000 miles, or about two years.

The LCA entitled, “Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Aluminum and Steel Truck Wheels,” is publicly available at www.alcoawheels.com/LCA.

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