Study recommends making parts from zinc alloy rather than aluminium

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A new study by the UK’s Cranfield University has found that switching from aluminium to zinc alloys in the production of automotive parts could enhance their longevity and sustainability. The study, conducted by the university’s Sustainable Manufacturing Systems Centre, compared three different alloys (Aluminium-A380, Magnesium-AZ91D and Zinc-ZA8).

Aluminium alloys have been popular in the automotive manufacturing industry due to their lightweight properties and relatively low cost.  However, the study suggests that aluminium is often chosen ahead of other alloys because of a “failure to fully factor” the sustainability of the end-product into consideration. When examining sustainability alongside typical factors such as time, cost and flexibility, Cranfield researchers say that their research demonstrated that using zinc rather than aluminium or magnesium alloys is a better choice for automotive manufacturers.

The zinc alloy proved to be a more sustainable and higher-performing option, found the university, 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 asserted that the automotive industry’s focus on increasingly lighter weight cars to increase fuel efficiency, often through the use of lightweight aluminium, may not actually be a more environmentally sustainable option.

Professor Mark Jolly, director of manufacturing at Cranfield University, said, “With the pressing climate crisis and consumers becoming ever more interested in the impact that the products they purchase have on the environment, manufacturers need to have a greater understanding of not just how they keep costs down, but how they find the more sustainable option.”

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Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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