Aluminum Reduces Costs for Electric Vehicles

By · January 08, 2013

Aluminum cost/weight graphic

A new study conducted by Forschungsgesellschaft Kraftfahrwesen mbH Aachen for the European Aluminium Association and the International Aluminum Institute found that despite the fact that aluminum costs more than steel, a complete electric vehicle can be less costly when built with a significant amount of aluminum rather than conventional steel.

The study, as reported by Green Car Congress, suggests that automakers could offset the cost of aluminum by utilizing a lower capacity battery pack, since the aluminum vehicle weighs less than its steel counterpart. In other words, range is not sacrificed due to weight reductions garnered through the use of aluminum. The savings, estimated at $829 per vehicle, is significant as automakers consistently seek out savings of even a few cents on certain parts that go into production vehicles.

Aluminum use in EV

Depiction of use of aluminum in different forms throughout the entire vehicle.

In the study, researchers converted a conventional vehicle into an EV. This baseline vehicle, with its steel unibody still intact, was fully tested before going on an aluminum diet. The team of researchers adapted an aluminum space frame to the electric vehicle, skinned the body in aluminum and replaced all steel components with aluminum where possible. The ability to meet crash test standards determined exactly how much steel could be replaced by the less crash-worthy aluminum.

Audi A2 concept

The mostly aluminum Audi A2 plug-in concept weighs only 2,500 pounds and boasts a range of up to 124 miles from its 31-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

The end result was an aluminum electric vehicle that weighed 357 pounds lighter than it steel electric counterpart. As a result, the vehicle's battery capacity could be reduced by 3.3 kWh while maintaining the original 124 miles of range. The use of a lower capacity battery could further reduce weight by 55 pounds, making the aluminum electric vehicle 412 pounds lighter than the steel electric reference vehicle and cutting total costs by $1,324 per vehicle. The figures are based on production volume of 100,000 units annually—well beyond the current scale of production for any EV-maker.

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