Automakers have called for the two industries to put a lid on public wrangling over future automotive applications, but the Aluminum Assoc. Inc. (AAI) nonetheless is considering increasing its marketing efforts in response to high-profile programs funded by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

The AAI's ad budget is thought to be a fraction of the $20 million the steel industry is rumored to spend annually. Feeling threatened by automakers' desire to make vehicles lighter and attain better fuel economy, the steel coalition also has contracted numerous studies to develop more environmentally friendly steel solutions and argue aluminum's alleged benefits.

Results from AISI's latest report were disclosed by Peter T. Peterson, a U.S. Steel Corp. executive, during an engineering conference in Detroit in April.

The research data asserts that aluminum isn't a more environmentally friendly replacement for steel because of the tremendous amount of power — and subsequent carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution — in the aluminum-making process.

The report also suggests there isn't enough hydroelectric capacity — to deliver “cleaner” electricity to the aluminum smelting process — to sufficiently ramp up production. AISI also claims that the AAI's weight reduction estimates were exaggerated. Furthermore, argues Mr. Peterson, as cleaner automotive powerplants become more prevalent, particularly fuel cells, the need for aluminum in automotive structural applications diminishes.

The claims were significant — and skewed, according to AAI. “Their assumptions are totally off base,” says Mr. Klimisch. “The independent scientists were offended by the way they manipulated some of the assumptions.”

Linda Gaines, who works at Argonne National Laboratory, a Dept. of Energy facility, says, “Steel's got a good story to tell without pulling any punches.”

AAI took issue with every point made in the AISI study. While AAI admits it takes a lot of power to extract aluminum from its ore, Mr. Klimisch says hydroelectric capacity is sufficiently increasing and that making a car or truck accounts for only 10% of the energy used by a vehicle during its lifetime, anyway. “So when you save weight, as aluminum does, that turns out to be an advantage from an overall life cycle view of the product,” explains Mr. Klimisch.

Plus, automakers increasingly are using recycled aluminum; 65% of aluminum used in vehicles today is recycled from previous automotive applications and other sectors. As for AISI claims that the AAI distorted weight savings and pollution figures, Mr. Klimisch again faulted the study. “They've (AISI) taken the assumption that there's no recycling.”