In 2013 Tesla’s [time-stock symbol=TSLA] Model S won the prestigious Motor Trend Car of the Year award. Motor Trend called it “one of the quickest American four-doors ever built.” It went on to say that the electric vehicle “drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive.”
The secret behind Tesla’s success
While the power driving Tesla’s success might be its battery, that’s not the real secret to its success. Instead, Tesla has aluminum to thank for its superior outperformance, as the metal is up to 40% lighter than steel, according to a report from the University of Aachen, Germany. That lighter weight enables Tesla to fit enough battery power into the car to extend the range of the Model S without hurting its performance. Vehicles made with aluminum accelerate faster, brake in shorter distances, and simply handle better than cars loaded down with heavier steel.
Even better, pound-for-pound aluminum can absorb twice as much crash energy as steel. This strength is one of the reasons Tesla’s Model S also achieved the highest safety rating of any car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But it’s not all good news when it comes to aluminum and cars.
Aluminum’s dirty side
[…] Before alumina can be converted into aluminum its source needs to be mined. That source is an ore called bauxite, which is typically extracted in open-pit mines that aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. Bauxite is then processed into the fine white powder known as alumina, and from there alumina is exposed to intense heat and electricity through a process known as smelting, which transforms the material into aluminum.
Aluminum smelting is extremely energy-intense. It takes 211 gigajoules of energy to make one tonne of aluminum, while just 22.7 gigajoules of energy is required to produce one tonne of steel. In an oversimplification of the process, aluminum smelting requires temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius to melt alumina, while an electric current must also pass through the molten material so that electrolysis can reduce the aluminum ions to aluminum metals. This process requires so much energy that aluminum production is responsible for about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Carbon Trust.
There is, however, some good news: Aluminum is 100% recyclable. Moreover, recycled aluminum, or secondary production, requires far less energy to produce than primary production, as the […] chart shows. […]”<