The use of aluminum presents great potential for increasing the sustainable use of energy. For example, aluminum’s light weight contributes to increased fuel efficiency in vehicles ranging from passenger cars to armored tanks. The metal’s 95 percent light-reflectivity contributes cooling efficiencies to “green” buildings and improves the energy production efficiency of solar cells. The aluminum industry is making continuous improvements in the environmental efficiency of producing aluminum through primary and secondary processes.
Today’s consumers are demanding energy efficiency, and aluminum can play a key role in driving this change. In August 2012, the U.S. government set higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, mandating an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon for the 2025 model year. Because the use of aluminum provides significant weight reductions for automakers, many car companies are now moving to aluminum to achieve these goals. In fact, in 2009, aluminum’s use in road vehicles offset more than 90 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with aluminum production in North America.
Electric vehicles are also at the forefront of improving fuel economy. Scientific research has produced an aluminum-air battery that has the potential of powering an electric car for 1,000 miles. In the building industry, aluminum’s ability to reflect 95 percent of solar energy significantly reduces the cost to cool buildings. Energy efficiency is a key qualifier for the coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standard.
To enable increases in sustainable energy production, aluminum’s reflectivity properties are producing advances in solar energy cell performance. Research indicates that solar panel efficiency can be improved by up to 22 percent through the use of embedded aluminum studs. These structures are 100 nanometers long and reflect light into the absorption layer of the solar panels.
Aluminum-air batteries have demonstrated the ability to power an electric vehicle for up to 1,000 miles. The Al-air battery consumes aluminum as a fuel. Aluminum’s energy density far surpasses conventional battery technologies and can rival gas and diesel fuels. A global automaker has contracted to purchase production volumes of the battery starting in 2017.