Kelly, Jarod; Sullivan, John; Burnham, Andrew; Elgowainy, Amgad
This study examines the vehicle-cycle impacts associated with substituting lightweight materials for those currently found in light-duty passenger vehicles. We determine part-based energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission ratios by collecting material substitution data from both the literature and automotive experts and evaluating that alongside known mass-based energy use and GHG emission ratios associated with material pair substitutions. Several vehicle parts, along with full vehicle systems, are examined for lightweighting via material substitution to observe the associated impact on GHG emissions. Results are contextualized by additionally examining fuel-cycle GHG reductions associated with mass reductions relative to the baseline vehicle during the use phase and also determining material pair breakeven driving distances for GHG emissions. The findings show that, while material substitution is useful in reducing vehicle weight, it often increases vehicle-cycle GHGs depending upon the material substitution pair. However, for a vehicle’s total life cycle, fuel economy benefits are greater than the increased burdens associated with the vehicle manufacturing cycle, resulting in a net total life-cycle GHG benefit. The vehicle cycle will become increasingly important in total vehicle life-cycle GHGs, since fuel-cycle GHGs will be gradually reduced as automakers ramp up vehicle efficiency to meet fuel economy standards.