Aluminum has been an integral material in cars, trucks and other vehicles throughout their history, but it’s still surprising to learn about how new electric vehicles are so dependent on aluminum alloys. It just goes to show that even after 100 years, aluminum is still undergoing tremendous innovations that are essential to industry.
An overview of electric vehicles
While the gas-powered automobile has been around for over a century, commercially sold electric vehicles, also known as EVs, are a much more recent development. With the twin threats of climate change and peak oil prices, more sustainable alternatives to the internal combustion engine (ICE) are the subject of much research and development, and aluminum has an important role to play in the transformation.
Battery-powered electric cars don’t rely on gasoline, but rather have large, rechargeable battery cells that provide the energy needed to propel the vehicle. Today’s EVs have ranges that vary from 80 to over 300 miles, depending upon the model, and researchers are constantly improving on those numbers. Compared to gas cars, EVs have a much lower carbon footprint during their lifecycle and are contributing to a greener planet.
It is estimated that between 2010 and 2019, the number of electric vehicles on the roads increased from 17,000 to over 7 million.
Is aluminum used in electric cars?
Just like with traditional automobiles, aluminum is a popular material in modern electric vehicles. Both ICE and electric powered manufacturers need to reduce the overall vehicle weight. ICE car and truck producers are trying to meet the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards set for fuel efficiency, while electric vehicle producers are trying to improve the range of travel before recharging. The less power required to travel a certain distance means the further the battery charge will take the vehicle.
There are more advantages to aluminum in electric vehicles than just weight. Aluminum offers better thermal conductivity than steel and other metals, a key consideration in the highly sensitive electrical components of EVs. Much of the electrical wiring of EVs relies on aluminum wiring as well.
Another factor in the adoption of aluminum is that it has a greener lifecycle, especially when the ease of recyclability is figured in. Electric vehicles are being rated according to their carbon emissions over their entire lifecycle, so manufacturers are willing to invest in more sustainable materials such as aluminum.
Tesla has invested heavily in new aluminum casting technology to enable them to cast entire vehicle subframes as single parts. The Tesla Model 3 chassis will be produced from front and rear single piece frames with a structural battery case connecting the two. This chassis system incorporates several parts that were formerly stamped and fastened together with welds and other methods; it will eliminate 370 parts. The robots required for assembly will also be reduced from approximately 1,000 to about 300.
The Idra Group in Italy has produced 5,500 ton and 6,200 ton die casting presses specifically to cast these frames. One of the largest innovations these machines required is the shot system to deliver the molten aluminum into the die; it can inject 220 lbs of metal into the cavity in 60 – 100 milliseconds.
For all these reasons and more, it’s been estimated that EVs and plug-in hybrids use 25% more aluminum than traditional vehicles.
What aluminum alloys are used in electric vehicles?
Generally, the same aluminum alloys found in traditional automobiles are also found in electric vehicles. The bodies of EVs are frequently made up of popular 6XXX series alloys such as 6061, 6016, and 6111. High corrosion resistant alloys are also common, such as 5182 and 5754. Solid and hollow profile extrusions are also proving to be an indispensable asset in the design and construction of electric vehicles as well as their charging stations. Extrusions are also a popular solution for EV battery enclosure applications.
But to further push the possibilities of electric vehicles, new alloys are also required. That’s why many of the most advanced EVs, such as Tesla, feature revolutionary new alloys that were specially created for the purpose. For instance, in 2020, the company applied for patents for one new alloy that had the yield strength of A356 but the electrical conductivity of 100.1 alloy.
Your Partner In Sustainable Metals
Aluminum alloys, thanks to their constant advances, have become a durable, adaptable, and high quality option for the electrical vehicle market. With such a premium being placed on sustainability and efficiency, it makes sense to use only the most sustainable, cost effective materials. It also pays to partner with a metal supplier who has a proven track record of success when it comes to reliability and professionalism.
At Clinton Aluminum, we have always believed in the importance of using the right material for the job. Our sales professionals work with customers to supply the correct alloy for every application, and that includes the EV market. Contact one of our friendly customer service representatives today with any questions or inquiries.