Global carbon benefits of material substitution in passenger cars until 2050 and the impact of the steel and aluminium industries

Journal Article

Light-weighting of passenger cars using high-strength steel or aluminum is a common emissions mitigation strategy. We provide a first estimate of the global impact of light-weighting by material substitution on GHG emissions from passenger cars and the steel and aluminum industries until 2050. We develop a dynamic stock model of the global car fleet and combine it with a dynamic MFA of the associated steel, aluminum, and energy supply industries. We propose four scenarios for substitution of conventional steel with high-strength steel and aluminum at different rates over the period 2010-2050. We show that light-weighting of passenger cars can become a 'gigaton solution': Between 2010 and 2050, persistent light-weighting of passenger cars can, under optimal conditions, lead to cumulative GHG emissions savings of 9-18 gigatons CO2-eq compared to development business-as-usual. Annual savings can be up to 1 gigaton per year. After 2030, enhanced material recycling can lead to further reductions: closed-loop metal recycling in the automotive sector may reduce cumulative emissions by another 4-6 gigatons CO2-eq. The effectiveness of emissions mitigation by material substitution significantly depends on how the recycling system evolves. At present, policies focusing on tailpipe emissions and life cycle assessments of individual cars do not consider this important effect.