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Lux Research: Lightweighting Provides ‘Vast Swath of Saving Opportunity’ for Transportation

Lightweighting can save the transportation sector a lot of money – in aviation, a 1-lb. reduction is worth a $100 to $300 premium, for example – but each material has its own challenges, according to a Lux Research report.

The report, titled “Structural Navigation: Optimizing Materials Selection in Automotive and Aerospace,” says the transportation sector will choose emerging structural materials to save fuel, as energy use rises 53% from 2008 levels to 765 quadrillion BTUs in 2035.

While carbon fiber and nanomaterials receive all the hype, other advanced structural materials such as magnesium and advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) will have a greater affect on efficient energy use, the report says. Lux Research analysts conducted decision-tree analyses to understand which materials will flourish where, now and in the future. Among their findings:

  • AHSS is the cost and availability leader. At an average price of $1.70/kg, AHSS is the cheapest advanced structural material and available in plenty. Its affordable price is a significant advantage for high-volume vehicles, but properties aren’t as dazzling as some other materials, and its limited ductility and welding pose problems.
  • Aluminum is often the best short-term bet. Aluminum is second only to steel in cost and availability because of the scale brought by global giants like Alcoa, Rio Tinto Alcan and Rusal. Its alloys occupy the middle ground on the overall structural materials spectrum and in many uses is the best material to use in the short term without disrupting existing manufacturing practices.
  • Aerospace is decades ahead of automotive in carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). While new aerospace models like Airbus’ A350 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner employ more than 50 percent CFRP by weight, on average polymer composites constitute less than 2 percent of an automobile’s total weight. Boeing and Airbus enjoy longstanding relationships with major carbon fiber suppliers such as Toray, Teijin, Mitsubishi Rayon, Hexcel, Cytec and Formosa.

The transportation sector makes up nearly one-third of global energy demand, according to Ross Kozarsky, Lux Research analyst and the lead author of the report.

A 2011 report by Frost & Sullivan predicted a major shift to lighter materials in the automotive industry as governments in Europe, the U.S. and Japan introduce tighter restrictions on carbon emissions.

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