Cranfield study recommends automotive firms switch from aluminium to zinc alloys

In recent years aluminium alloys have been favoured by the automotive manufacturing industry for their lightweight properties and lower cost.  

However, a new study carried out by researchers at Cranfield University suggests that the use of zinc alloys rather than aluminium could greatly enhance the longevity and sustainability of automotive components.

The study conducted by a team at the university’s Sustainable Manufacturing Systems Centre and published ‘International Journal of Sustainable Manufacturing’, compared three different alloys (Aluminium-A380, Magnesium-AZ91D and Zinc-ZA8).

 A zinc alloy can be better value for money as well as being more sustainable

Professor Konstantinos Salonitis

It suggests that aluminium is frequently chosen ahead of other alloys because of a failure to fully factor the sustainability of the end-product into consideration. When examining sustainability alongside traditional factors such as time, cost and flexibility, Cranfield’s research demonstrated that the zinc rather than the aluminium or magnesium alloys offered the better choice for automotive manufacturers.  

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The zinc alloy proved to be a more sustainable and higher performing option, when considering measures such as the environmental impact caused by the extraction of the metal and the quality of the parts it produces. Despite the aluminium alloy being a lower cost option, the study found that the zinc alloy also offered better value for money as the parts it creates are likely to have a much longer life than the other alloys. 

Previous Cranfield research has demonstrated that the automotive industry’s focus on increasingly lighter weight cars to increase fuel efficiency, often through lightweight aluminium, may not actually be a more environmentally sustainable option. 

Professor Konstantinos Salonitis, Head of Sustainable Manufacturing Systems Centre at Cranfield University, said: “Aluminium has become the favoured material of the automotive industry for its lightweight properties and comparatively low cost.

“However, our study which looked in depth at sustainability, alongside traditional factors such as time, cost and flexibility, showed that actually a zinc alloy can be better value for money as well as being more sustainable.”