As Seen on The Guardian: Ships, Planes and Automobiles Take a Load Off to Go Green

Lightweighting – the reduction of a vehicle’s mass to enhance performance – is helping manufacturers meet fuel efficiency targets, thus shrinking their customers’ carbon footprints
Mar 1, 2017 11:05 AM ET

As Seen on The Guardian: Ships, Planes and Automobiles Take a Load Off to Go Gr…

People aren’t the only ones with weight loss goals for the new year. To increase fuel efficiency and minimize their carbon footprints, transportation companies are making an effort to shed pounds, too.

Wards Auto survey of 900 automotive engineers found that 49% are focusing on lightweight vehicles and the use of lighter structural materials. Lightweighting – the reduction of vehicle mass to enhance performance – will help automakers meet fuel efficiency targets and gain other benefits. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, for every 100 pounds removed from a vehicle, fuel efficiency increases by 1% to 2%, resulting in savings of 3-5 cents per gallon at the pump.

Fuel reduction is a big goal for the aviation industry, too, and lightweighting helps. Petroleum makes up 33% of an airline’s operating costs. The heavier the plane, the more fuel it uses, so airline engineers and designers are looking into new materials to make their aircrafts lighter. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 both use a light but strong composite of carbon fiber embedded in plastic.

Cruise ship manufacturers are also looking into advanced lightweight materials in order to meet the Marine Environment Protection Committee’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 45m-50m tons a year by 2020. Lightweighting and energy efficiency management will help ships reduce their environmental impact.

Back on solid ground at General Motors, engineers are focused on making autos lighter to increase performance and meet customer expectations. Ten recently launched Buicks, GMCs, Chevrolets and Cadillacs have lost an average 350 pounds. The annual carbon emissions avoided from this weight loss is equal to saving 28m gallons of fuel.

“We start with an understanding of the most important attributes to the customer, be it performance, EV range, interior space, towing capacity or fuel economy,” said Charlie Klein, GM’s executive director of global CO2 strategy, energy, mass and aerodynamics. “Then we work to find the right mix of materials to deliver on that promise and exceed their expectations.”

Lightweighting is a key component of GM’s Efficient Fundamentals strategy, which includes advancing powertrain technologies, optimizing components and vehicle systems, and improving aerodynamics – all factors that benefit from a lighter overall vehicle.

The automaker has introduced new assembly materials and challenged engineers to be innovative with vehicle construction. The 2017 Chevrolet Volt has lost 250 pounds since its first-generation model, which has helped increase its range by 30%. And the GMC Acadia dropped 700 pounds after improvements in size, content, structure and chassis.

Besides car consumers, businesses that use vast numbers of vehicles also benefit from lighter transport. In 2012, UPS implemented its lightweighting strategy, scrapping aluminum from its delivery trucks to test a plastic-like material that reduced weight by about 1,000 pounds, resulting in a 40% improvement in fuel efficiency. The cost of these trucks is close to UPS’s standard models and supports a smaller engine. UPS is also investing in hybrid, electric, propane and natural gas trucks and has driven more than 1bn miles since 2000 with its alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet.

According to the US Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, if one-quarter of the automobiles in the US used lightweight components and high-efficiency engines, they’d save more than 5bn gallons of gasoline per year by 2030.

Whether by land, air or sea, the transportation industry’s weight loss plan has benefits for consumers and businesses alike. But the biggest impact could be on the environment.

Reposted from with permission.