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Automotive changes and challenges for the casting industry

Downsizing, down-speeding, hybrid and electric drives are some of the technologies to reduce CO2 emissions in the automotive industry. It is interesting to note what impact this will have in terms of opportunities and challenges for the casting industry. Here we look at the possible effects for three main product segments - chassis, drive, and bodywork.

In accordance with studies, 30% of the CO2 emissions of vehicles are generated in the production phase and 70% in the period of usage. Thus, the entire process chain, including the energy needed for manufacturing the components, will have to be incorporated more strongly in the equation to further reduce CO2 emissions.

Materials and processes with lower levels of CO2 emissions should prevail and development activities in this area remain paramount. Circle closure, reduction of material and energy use, and avoidance of toxicities are essential target variables. Deriving an efficient CO2 reduction strategy requires the environmental effects of the entire product lifecycle to be evaluated.

The use of aluminium for the purposes of weight reduction can be taken as an example. The energy required to manufacture an engine block consisting of primary aluminium is three times as high as for a housing consisting of cast iron. When using secondary aluminium the balance will be improved immediately and one requires significantly less driven kilometres to compensate the higher energy required during the manufacturing procedure. The CO2 balance can be influenced essentially not only in the field of material selection, but also on the basis of the casting process itself. For example, the thermal energy generated in the cupola melting furnace can be used further within the attempts to reduce CO2 emissions. An example is the Maggi factory in Singen which utilises the hot gases of the adjacent casting factory of Georg Fischer in Singen to generate saturated vapour for their production system. This way, the environment is relieved of more than 11,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year(1).

Targets for the automotive industry

Increasing the efficiency in each vehicle segment is the target, regardless of whether the vehicle concerned is a compact vehicle, family van, or SUV. Within the European Union, the member states have agreed upon uniform, long-term specifications for the reduction of CO2 in terms of road traffic. Starting in 2012, the CO2 emissions of new vehicles within the EU have to be reduced gradually, from approx 160g/km to 130g/km in the year 2012. A fleet value will be determined for each major manufacturer, at which the aforementioned depends on the product portfolio, i.e. the average weight of the fleet of the manufacturers.

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