“A new alloy is as good as titanium at a tenth of the cost” – Business Insider, 8 February 2015

South Korea-based scientist Dr. Hansoo Kim and his associates at the Pohang University of Science and Technology have created a new alloy by reconfiguring steel by a few nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Though the manipulation occurs on the smallest of scales, it creates an alloy that is as durable and light as titanium alloys but more economical.

Steel is continuously on the decline; now that President Obama has mandated that car fuel economies double by 2025, the US automotive industry has been working with big-name aluminum companies like Novelis and Alcoa to manufacture car parts. The aerospace industry is also experiencing the same push towards aluminum, since steel — although inexpensive and sturdy — remains a heavier metal. The percentage of steel made parts in cars has dropped from 68.1 percent in 1995 to 60.1 percent in 2011. Now that Ford is working on its new generation of all-aluminum F-150s, you can imagine that those numbers have dropped even further.

Dr. Kim took it upon himself to create a new alloy that still uses steel, but also employs a few other lighter metals. The combination he discovered to be the best is iron, aluminum, carbon, steel, and nickel. Without nickel, Kim found the alloy too fragile; however, adding the nickel allows for a reaction to occur between the nickel and aluminum to make new nanometers that bind more efficiently with the steel. The crystals that the nickel create prevent the alloy from fracturing.

The new alloy uses a combination of relatively cheap materials, which means it can still be cheap to purchase on an industrial scale. Fueled by global innovations, it’s only a question of how long before light metals like aluminum, magnesium, and now titanium will start  dominating as the material of choice for automobile production.

(From Business Insider)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

February 8, 2015

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“Alcoa Maintains Aerospace Push With Opening Of New Aluminum-Lithium Alloy Manufacturing Facility” – Forbes, 8 October 2014

Alcoa has now firmly established itself as a manufacturer of not only aluminum, but various lightweight metals as well.

After opening a nickel-based alloy engine part manufacturing facility in Indiana; investing in a Virginia facility that will generate nickel-based alloy jet engine blades; and recently signing a deal with jet engine parts manufacturer Firth Rixson to produce parts that use nickel, titanium, and aluminum-lithium alloys, Alcoa has now opened another Indiana-based facility that will manufacture aluminum-lithium alloy parts for the aerospace industry.

Alcoa chose to shift its focus because it doesn’t want to solely rely upon aluminum, since the aluminum market has been struggling with weak demand and overcapacity. While it looks like the aluminum market is picking up again, China’s growing aluminum production and growing exports of semi-manufactured products is now stunting the market. Alcoa has chosen to diversify by concentrating on alloys, which are cheaper, improve fuel efficiency, and curb maintenance fees. Overall, a better option for the aerospace industry, instead of titanium and composites.

Alcoa is ramping up its investments in lightweight metals and alloys: the company has contracted $100 million in aluminum-lithium manufacturing for 2017. For 2014, Alcoa has predicted an eight to nine percent growth in its aerospace sector. Alcoa is banking on the aerospace industry continuing to grow, and indeed it is. The demand for regional jets will increase by 13.2 percent in 2014, while the large commercial jet sector will increase by 12.1 percent in 2014.

Moving into the aerospace industry is a smart step for the aluminum mogul. In 2014, the company made a $4 billion profit from the industry, or 17 percent of Alcoa’s entire revenue for that year. Now that aerospace is set to grow, Alcoa is set to grow with it.

More about Alcoa:
After 125 years, Alcoa looks beyond aluminum
Alcoa, Novelis face new competition as aluminum gains in auto segment
Alcoa & Boeing Form Aluminum Recycling Program
Alcoa Posts a Jump in Net Profit

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

October 8, 2014

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“As aluminum market shifts to deficit, all eyes on China” – Reuters, 1 September 2014

The aluminum market has finally reached a deficit, rather than a supply overflow. This is due in large part to a strong London Metal Exchange (LME) price — now trading at almost $2,100 per metric ton, the highest since 2013 — and raised physical premiums.

However, two things could potentially affect the aluminum market, and both have to do with China: growing aluminum production in China, and more semi-manufactured products being shipped out of the country.

While production has been steadily on the rise in China, the story has been different elsewhere. Worldwide yearly production in July was 24.38 million tons, down from an all-time high of 25.92 million tons in October 2011. New start-ups are popping up all over the world — specifically the Gulf region — forcing higher-cost facilities to shut down. Alcoa, for instance, recently closed one if its older smelters located in Italy.

From October 2011 to this past July, Chinese production has increased by 5.7 million tons per year to 23.28 million tons in July. Yet, most aluminum produced in China stays in China. In 2006, China’s government raised the tax on exports to 15 percent. The Shanghai price can barely hold its ground in comparison to the LME price: China’s total imports have lowered this summer, from 109,000 tons from February to April 2014 to only 19,000.

China is able to get around its country’s heavy export tax by producing and exporting aluminum alloys, though not enough to make an impact — the country shipped out a total of 347,000 tons of aluminum alloy last year. Chinese metals manufacturers are given a tax rebate for generating such products; if they alter primary metals just a bit so they pass as a product, then the product qualifies for a tax rebate, rather than getting slapped with an export tax.

There is a fear that these products might not always be what they seem, and might be a cover up for China’s excess aluminum. Now, Chinese exports are only growing. Since July 2013, China has seen a 14 percent increase in product exports. Another fear is that China’s product will fill the Western world’s gaps. The only thing keeping China’s aluminum exports in check is the Chinese government’s export tax, which could be lifted at any time. Regardless, China’s exports are still increasing.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 2, 2014

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“After 125 years, Alcoa looks beyond aluminum” – ETAuto.com, 29 June 2014

Alcoa was established in the US in 1888, and since then has become the third largest producer of aluminum in the world. The company has become a primary manufacturer for aerospace and automotive parts, recently striking a deal with jet engine parts manufacturer Firth Rixson to create parts that use nickel, titanium, and aluminum-lithium alloys, rather than primary aluminum. Alcoa’s diversification is the company’s attempt at dodging the current primary aluminum market, which is struggling with weak demand and overcapacity.

via Wall Street Journal

via Wall Street Journal

The company is slowly rebranding itself as a manufacturer of various lightweight metals. This past May, Alcoa opened a $100 million facility in Indiana that will manufacture nickel-based alloy engine parts. Alcoa is slated to invest $25 million in a Virginia-based facility that will also mostly generate nickel-based alloy jet engine blades. Alcoa’s expansion has helped their stock grow over 80 percent since last year.

Aluminum will never leave Alcoa, and its use is only becoming more important in the US. Obama’s 2010 mandate to double new-car average fuel economies by 2025 has forced large US car manufacturers, like GM and Ford, to opt for aluminum rather than steel. In the past, aluminum has been used in manufacturing wheels, engines, and hoods of cars, but now the US car industry is moving to all-aluminum bodied cars.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

July 2, 2014

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