Could This Simple Material Solve All Our Energy Problems?


The all-aluminum Tesla. Photo credit: Tesla

America is projected to emit 5.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide this year. That is about 16% of the global total. We are actually down from our peak in 2007 and overall emissions are down to levels we haven't experienced in nearly two decades. So, while the U.S. is reducing emissions, it still has a long way to go.

The same can be said for our dependence on foreign oil. The rapid growth of shale gas and oil as well as our push to become more energy efficient has pushed net imports down from our 2005 peak. While the nation still has a long way to go, it's making progress.

In one sense, energy efficiency solves both the carbon problem and the oil import problem. As we use less oil our emissions and imports are both reduced. It's killing the proverbial two birds with one stone. It's a problem that can be solved by using one common material: aluminum.

The versatile metal offers a wide range of uses that makes it the perfect metal to make our nation more energy efficient. It's a future that's not lost on aluminum producers like Alcoa as the company is looking at new ways to use aluminum to reduce energy.

Driving more usage
One of the most important future uses of the metal will be increasing aluminum content in automobiles. According to the Aluminum Association, "aluminum offers the most promise for cutting total automotive-related carbon emissions and energy use." Because aluminum is stronger than steel and weighs less, it can be used to replace steel in cars and trucks to lower total vehicle weight, which will increase fuel efficiency.

A great example is the Toyota Venza. A typical steel model will only have about 3% aluminum content. But more aluminum can be used to build a Toyota Venza. By boosting the aluminum content up to 37% Toyota can reduce the Venza's weight by 8% while at the same time boosting fuel efficiency by 18%.

This is why we are seeing vehicle manufacturers like Tesla and Ford also become extensive users of aluminum. In the case of Tesla, its Model S is using the weight saving from aluminum to increase the range of the car as it offsets the heavy battery pack. Ford is also looking to pack more aluminum into its next generation trucks with the Ford F-150 likely to be put on an aluminum diet.

Reflecting on aluminum's potential
Aluminum's potential reaches well past the auto industry. For example, most new homes built today are built with energy efficiency in mind. One of the most important tools that builders use to save home buyers money is a pure aluminumized film radiant barrier. The barrier reflects radiant heat instead of trying to absorb it as insulation does. By reflecting the heat back toward the roof it reduces attic heat in the summer while reflecting back heat in the winter.

During the summer months 93% of the heat gain from the sun is radiant heat that could be reflected back to keep attic space cooler. During the winter months up to 75% of heat loss is radiant and this heat could be reflected back to keep the air consumers paid to heat in their house. By adding this aluminum barrier consumers can substantially reduce heat gain and heat loss. This saves energy, emissions, and money.

Final thoughts
There are countless other examples of how aluminum can reduce our energy usage. By not wasting so much energy we can then reduce our energy costs and emissions. Aluminum's unique properties make it the perfect material to solve these two big energy problems. Combining increased usage of aluminum with America's own energy boom, and it's easier to see how we can become an energy independent nation in the future.

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Matt DiLallo has the following options: long January 2014 $10 calls on Ford and short January 2014 $10 puts on Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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